Chinese immigrants first came to the United States in the middle of the 19th century. Some came to mine for gold during the gold rush. Others set up businesses in the surrounding communities. Chinese laborers were essential in laying the tracks for the first transcontinental railroad. Despite their accomplishments, they were often the targets of discrimination, policy, and mass violence. Anti-Chinese images in the press were used to support the Chinese Exclusion Act and other policies aimed to severely restrict the lives and freedoms of Chinese immigrants to the U.S. Yet, Chinese Americans fought back, winning critical legal battles that helped to expand rights for all immigrants, including the landmark ruling in the case of Wong Kim Kim whose victory guaranteed the birthright citizenship for everyone born in the United States.
It was not until the late 1960s and 1970s that the number of Chinese immigrants to the U.S. began to grow steadily. While the exclusion act was lifted in the 1940s, it took until the 1965 immigration and naturalization act for most restrictions to be abolished. While Chinese Americans continue to face prejudice, the social and cultural impact that they have made on life in the United States is starting to be recognized. By teaching this fundamental history, young people will recognize the central role Chinese immigrants have played and continue to play in American life.