Soon the country will focus on recognizing the week in 1865 that slaves were granted their freedom in all Confederate States. Juneteenth festivities hold special meaning for the African-American community, a way to mark the end of their ancestors’ unjustified enslavement and salute their many achievements.
However, it is incorrect to celebrate the end of all slavery in the United States at that time.
Close reading of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation divulges that he only freed those slaves held in the states that seceded from the Union. Excluded were slaves in loyal Union states like California, or residing in the specific counties of border states.
The sad aftermath of California’s 19th century Gold Rush included an unprecedented wave of laws and sanctioned discrimination against Chinese immigrants for decades. Women shipped from China served as slaves, both domestic and sexual, at a time when men outnumbered women in the region by almost 100 to 1. In fact, auctioning Chinese was commonplace on the streets of San Francisco as late as 1870.
The foreign customs and odd appearance of the Chinese made them scapegoats for any number of accusations and mob rule, detailed in this blog post.
My most recent novel, Kit’s Mine, explores the plight of a Chinese-American woman escaping enslavement and fighting to gain control of her family’s gold mine. My purpose in writing this story was to shed a light on these buried facts and make history relevant again.
This month, it seems only appropriate to reflect on our treatment of our Chinese-heritage population, especially with the current discussions on immigration and naturalization policies, taxation, property ownership and the American Dream, and human trafficking.
And, with today’s bumpy relationship with China, it also seems timely to share the reasons behind some of the antagonism between our countries. America denied citizenship to Chinese immigrants until 1943, almost 100 years after the Gold Rush first attracted Chinese workers to California, and eighty years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.
Let’s learn and share these little known facts, and never forget.