“Is it a disgrace to be born a Chinese?” (Chinese Immigration, Part 3)

The Tape Family, The Morning Call (San Francisco, CA), November 23, 1892.
(Library of Congress)

“You have expended a lot of the Public money foolishly, all because of a one poor little Child. Her playmates is all Caucasians, ever since she could toddle around. If she is good enough to play with them! Then is she not good enough to be in the same room and studie with them? You had better come and see for yourselves. See if the Tape’s is not same as other Caucasians, except in features. It seems no matter how a Chinese may live and dress so long as you know they Chinese. Then they are hated as one. There is not any right or justice for them.”

–Mary Tape

Among the many young girls who arrived in San Francisco in 1868, was one 11-year-old from Shanghai.  After five months in Chinatown, she was taken in by Ladies’ Protection and Relief Society on Franklin Street, where she was given the name Mary.

The following year, Chew Diep arrived from Taishan.  In 1875, he met Mary while he delivered milk for the Sterling family.  They married on November 16, and before long, Chew Diep changed his name to Joe Tape.  The Tapes’ daughter Mamie was born the following summer.  The Tapes would have three more children:  Frank, Emily, and Gertrude.  

The Tapes lived in the Black Point neighborhood, now called Cow Hollow, which was predominantly white.  Teen neighbor Florence Eveleth taught little Mamie and Frank reading and math.  But neither the Tapes’ affluence nor assimilation could protect them from discrimination.

Additional Resources:

“The 8-Year-Old Chinese-American Girl Who Helped Desegregate Schools” (History Channel)

“Before Brown v. Board of Education, There was Tape v. Hurley” (Library of Congress)

“In Pursuit of Equality: Separate is Not Equal” (Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America by Mae Ngai

“The Tapes of Russell Street” (Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association)

Unbound Voices: Chinese Women in San Francisco by Judy Yung

“We Have Always Lived as Americans” (The New York Historical Society)

“What a Chinese Girl Did,” The Morning Call, November 23, 1892, Page 12

“The Chinese were in a pitiable condition …” (Chinese Immigration, Part 1)

Chinese Workers, 1800s
Image credit:  Modesto Art Museum

I ate wind and tasted waves for more than twenty days.

Fortunately, I arrived safely on the American continent.

I thought I could land in a few days.

How was I to know I would become a prisoner suffering in the wooden building?

The barbarians’ abuse is really difficult to take.

When my family’s circumstances stir my emotions, a double stream of tears flows.

I only wish I can land in San Francisco soon,

Thus sparing me this additional sorrow here.”

–Poem inscribed in Angel Island barracks wall

The story of large-scale Chinese immigration to the United States begins in the 1850s. Most came from Guangdong Province, wracked for decades by civil and economic unrest. Gam Saan, or “Gold Mountain,” held the promise of wealth that could enrich an entire village.

When the Gold Rush subsided, Chinese men found work on the Transcontinental Railroad. They would build 90% of the Central Pacific Railroad, laying track in record time. However, while the Chinese were initially heralded for their industry and efficiency, they would become targets of harassment and violence. In 1882, when Chinese immigrants were 0.21% of the population, Congress passed the Exclusion Act. From 1910 to 1940, the Angel Island Immigration Station played an important role in the enforcement of the law. Poems inscribed into the barracks walls give us a glimpse into life for those waiting to learn their fates.

Additional Reading and Listening:

Angel Island Immigration Station (website)

Angel Island Poems read in Toishanese (YouTube)

Building the Transcontinental Railroad by Linda Thompson (for school-age readers)

The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroad by Gordon Chang

History that Doesn’t Suck Podcast Episode 85

Text of the Chinese Exclusion Act