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The Handbook of Texas is free-to-use thanks to the support of readers like you. Support the Handbook today. The Chinese were the first of the Asian immigrants to come to Texas, and until the influx of the Vietnamese in the s they were also the most numerous.
According to the census, the Chinese in Texas ed 25, or less than two-tenths of one percent of the state's total population.
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The Chinese first came to Texas, in two contingents, with the railro. The first group, contract laborers from California, arrived in January with the Houston and Texas Central, whose railhead was then at Calvert. Although their labor on the Houston-Dallas line was abruptly terminated after less than a year and most of them soon left the state, a few nevertheless remained in Robertson County. In these seventy-two were 53 percent of the Chinese living in Texas. The second contingent, also from California, came in with the Southern Pacific, whose 3,person work force was, except forall Chinese.
When the line was completed insome of them, too, stayed in Texas. By the of Chinese statewide had jumped toof whom 32 percent were in El Paso County. After reaching a peak of inthe Chinese population in Texas began to decline as a delayed reaction to the congressional enactment in of the Chinese exclusion law, which for the next six decades barred practically all further immigration from China.
The decline would have been more precipitous than it was but for one of the rare occasions when the exclusion law was set aside. Inwhen Gen. John J. Pershing returned to the United States from Mexico, after his fruitless pursuit of Francisco Pancho Villahe was permitted to bring with him Mexican Chinese who had assisted his troops during the invasion.
Even with this infusion, the statewide Chinese population in was onlyof whom 46 percent were in Bexar County. The Chinese exclusion act was repealed inand American immigration laws were greatly liberalized in the following decades.
As a result, the Chinese population in Texas boomed. From 1, in the statewide population soared to 25, inof whom 12, 47 percent were in Harris County. In the s Houston surpassed San Antonio as the center of Chinese life in the state.
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These postwar immigrants from China were, in several respects, very different from their predecessors-so much so that the two groups and their descendants often have little to do with each other. Whereas the old immigrants had originated almost exclusively from the Canton region of south China and spoke only Cantonese, the new immigrants were generally from north and central China though often by way of Taiwan or Hong Kong and spoke Mandarin. Furthermore, the old immigrants were originally of peasant stock and had come to the United States initially as unskilled and illiterate contract laborers, such as railroad workers.
Once in Texas, however, they had carved out for themselves niches in the service and commercial sectors of the urban economy-notably hand laundries, which required little capital and posed no economic threat to Caucasian males; chop houses and restaurants that served American food as well as ersatz Chinese food like chop suey; and retail groceries that often catered to Chicanos or Blacks.
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The descendants of these older immigrants, though upwardly mobile, usually stayed in the business world. The new immigrants, on the other hand, have generally been products of China's elite culture and have tended toward professional careers in the sciences and engineering. Finally, the old immigrants had come to America not as permanent settlers. They were nearly all men-in only thirteen 2 percent out of the Chinese in Texas were women-and their primary purpose in coming to America was to earn money to support the families they had left behind in China and hoped eventually to re.
Because of this "sojourner" attitude on their own part as well as because of the exclusion law, which barred them from bringing their wives, a normal conjugal family society did not emerge among the Chinese Texans until the late s or s, long after they first arrived in the state. The new immigrants, on the other hand, usually came with their families as permanent residents. Except in the s, when most of the Chinese in Robertson County were sharecroppers and field hands on the cotton plantations near Calvert and Hearne, the Chinese Texans have always been overwhelmingly an urban population.
Around the turn of the century in El Paso they were numerous enough to form a small but compact Chinatown. Socially, the Chinese in Texas have always been a close-knit, inward-looking community, bound by their own awareness of the distinctiveness of their original Chinese culture as well as by a long history of discrimination in the United States.
They have looked to themselves and their own institutions for support and protection. The foremost institution among all Chinese has been the patriarchal family, on whose behalf, for example, the old immigrants endured long periods of separation during the era of exclusion. Among both old and new immigrants it is not unusual for three generations to be under one roof, with the aged parents living with their adult children and their grandchildren. Aside from the family, other social groups have also played an important role, though probably more among the old immigrants and their descendants than among the new.
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These include the clan or family association usually defined by a common surnamethe district association defined by a common county of origin in Chinaand the merchant association descended from the secret society of an earlier era, e. These organizations, either individually or collectively, looked after the general well-being of all Chinese; they claim, for example, to have kept the Chinese Texans off the welfare rolls during the Great Depression.
Politically, the Chinese have similarly kept to themselves. Until the end of exclusion, they were classified as aliens ineligible for citizenship and thus, except for the few who had been born in the United States, were denied the right to vote. In they successfully lobbied against an amendment to the Texas alien land law that would have driven the Chinese groceries out of business. They were not, however, otherwise active in Texas politics.
They preferred to involve themselves instead in the politics of their native land. They contributed generously to China's struggle against Japanese aggression in the s and early s, when branches of the Chinese Nationalist party, or Kuomintang, were established in San Antonio and El Paso. Since the repeal of the exclusion act in and the triumph of the Communists in China inhowever, their ties to China have loosened considerably.
In Tom. More recently, others have been elected to local office in Houston. Culturally, Chinese Texans have retained, to varying degrees, some of the distinctive elements of the old world ways. Many prefer Chinese food to American, though the proliferation of Chinese restaurants since the s has been due more to the changing tastes of the general public than to any Chinese demand.
Most celebrate the Chinese lunar new year. And, under the influence of Confucianism, they tend to emphasize family solidarity and the value of education more than most other ethnic groups do. They have also attempted to pass on to the younger, American-born generation some knowledge of Chinese languages and culture. A Chinese school operated in San Antonio for more than twenty years beginning in ; another was founded in Houston in But such efforts have been of only limited success.
By and large, the Chinese, despite an adherence to traditional values and practices, have assimilated into the mainstream of American life. In religion, many are Baptists.
Francis Edward Abernethy and Dan Beaty, eds. Edward C. Chen and Fred R. Edward J. The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry. All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.
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Chinese Edward J. Rho Overview Entry. : Peoples Chinese. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.