History of Laws Restricting Chinese Immigration in the United States

“The Opium Wars (1839-42, 1856-60) of the mid-nineteenth century between Great Britain and China left China in debt. Floods and drought contributed to an exodus of peasants from their farms, and many left the country to find work.” During the 1850s, a large amount of Chinese immigrants had begun immigrating to the United States to work as a cheap labor in the gold mines, garment factories, building railroads, and taking agriculture jobs. Thus, the local plantation owners were seeking cheaper labor forces, which created a tension between white labors and exotic labors.

In 1882, the United States government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was the first significant law restricting immigration of a certain group into the United States. “Many Americans on the West Coast attributed declining wages and economic ills to Chinese workers. Although the Chinese composed only 0.002 percent of the nation’s population, Congress passed the exclusion act to placate worker demands and assuage prevalent concerns about maintaining white racial purity.”

In 1892, the Geary Act was passed to extend the ban on Chinese immigration for additional ten years and in 1902, the Chinese immigration was made permanently illegal until 1943 with the passage of the Magnuson Act. Due to the effectiveness of legislation, the Chinese immigrants population dramatically declined.

Note from Caroline: while the Magnuson Act allowed a small number of Chinese immigrants into the country with restricted rights, race-based restriction of immigration was not outlawed until 1952, and restriction based on nationality was not outlawed until the Hart-Celler Act in 1965, which we heard about last week. It’s also worth noting that immigration from other Asian countries was strictly controlled as well, and Asian immigrants and their American-born children in general faced substantial discrimination. (In fact, at the time the Magnuson Act was signed into law during World War II, most of the U.S.’s Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans were detained in internment camps.) 


“U.S. Immigration Timeline.” History.com Editors, 21 Dec. 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/immigration/immigration-united-states-timeline. Accessed 1 Mar. 2020

“Chinese Exclusion Act.” History.com Staff, 24 Aug. 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/immigration/chinese-exclusion-act-1882. Accessed 1 Mar. 2020.

Vietnamese Introduction into the Nail Industry

In 1995, actress Tippi Hedren, also known as the Godmother of the nail industry, ran a program to help settle 20 Vietnamese refugee women in the United States. At the time, Hedren visited a refugee camp in Northern California, Hope Village, and empathized with the difficulties the women had faced in light of the Vietnam war. Most of the women refugees were the spouses of high ranking military officers who lost everything in the war–their houses, their families, and their livelihoods.

Hedren wanted to teach the women trade skills that they could use to support themselves in light of their new lives. Wanting to introduce skills that could easily be learnable due to the language barrier, Hedren brought in seamstresses and typists to teach the women acquirable skills. But instead, her nails caught their attention. After taking notice of this, Tippi Hedren had her personal manicurist visit the refugee establishment to teach the women how to manicure nails the ‘Beverley Hills’ way. This sparked the Vietnamese (and eventually other Asian immigrants’) interest in the nail industry.

The women went on to teach others the art of mastering the perfect manicure. Aside from their initial interest in Tippi Hedren’s nails, the women learned that they could get by working as manicurists with only a few basic English words under their belt, which increased their attraction to the profession.

Vietnamese involvement and interest in the nail salon business radicalized the industry. What were once $50 manicures and pedicures found back in the 1970’s are now being offered for $20. 40 years after Vietnamese induction into the business, over half of the nail salons (51% as of 2015) and 80% of the nail salons in California are found to be Vietnamese owned. Originally intended to introduce trade skills to refugee women, Tippi Hedren transformed the nail salon business into a primarily Vietnamese run 8 billion dollar industry.


Works Cited:

Center for Asian American Media. “Nailed It.” WORLD Channel, WGBH Educational Foundation , worldchannel.org/episode/arf-nailed-it/.

Garcia-Navarro, Lulu. “How Vietnamese Americans Took Over The Nails Business: A Documentary.” NPR, NPR, 19 May 2019, www.npr.org/2019/05/19/724452398/how-vietnamese-americans-took-over-the-nails-business-a-documentary.

Morris, Regan. “How Tippi Hedren Made Vietnamese Refugees into Nail Salon Magnates.” BBC News, BBC, 3 May 2015, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32544343.

To, My Ngoc. “The Hidden Lives of Nail Artists.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 June 2017, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/21/nail-salons-vietnam-refugees-atlanta-georgia-snellville.

The Melting Pot: New York City

New York City is commonly referred to as the “Melting Pot” of America because of it’s massive diversity. There are over 8 million people living in the city currently and there are over 800 languages spoken within the city. The term melting pot originated in 1908 by Isreal Zangwill. At first, it was used as a metaphor to define the union of several cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities. The opportunities in New York have previously attracted and still do bring massive amounts of immigrants to the United States. Within New York City there are several small cultural communities such as China town and Little Italy in which ethnic groups have gathered to share their traditions.

Immigration to New York was at an all-time high in 1910 when 41% of New Yorkers were immigrants. Several ethnic groups from eastern and southern Europe were migrating to the United States for the promise of “new opportunities” and freedoms. Currently, over 5 million people, sixty percent of the population, are immigrants or children of immigrants. In 2000, the top three ethnic groups within the city were Jamaicans, Chinese, and Dominicans. The mixture of ethnicities allowed for several new trade skills to be introduced to the city. Religion across the city is so diverse that many traditional holidays from Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and other religions are traditionally respected in places of employment and across the city.

Food typically brings people from all backgrounds together. New York has a vast variety of restaurants and food because there are so many people from different cultures residing within the city. In “Little Italy”, the area is dedicated to traditional Italian lifestyle and dishes. The same goes for China Town, the people share their culture and traditions in a small part of New York. Today, the city embraces its cultural diversity and deems itself as the melting pot of America. The history even dedicates a week to immigrants called Immigrant History Week where the slogan last year was “New York loves Immigrants”.

New York: A Unique Immigrant City. (n.d.). In Footnotes . Retrieved February 23, 2020, from https://www.asanet.org/sites/default/files/savvy/footnotes/indexone.html

New York City Melting Pot . (n.d.). In American Egg Board. Retrieved February 23, 2020, from https://www.aeb.org/search/result-item/53-breakfast-trends/564-new-york-city-melting-pot

Singh, P. (2015, February 5). A Melting Pot of Immigrants . In The Peopling of New York City 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2020, from https://eportfolios.macaulay.cuny.edu/lutton15/2015/02/05/a-melting-pot-of-immigrants/