Immigration and Urbanization

Start Free Trial

Editor's Choice

How were Asian immigrants treated differently than European immigrants in early 20th-century America?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Chinese immigrants first started coming to the US in the 1850s to work on the railroads. Though they were critical to the construction of the railroads, the Chinese men who immigrated were subjected to discriminatory laws in California (where they lived, for the most part). The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is (to date) the only federal law to restrict immigration based on race, and it largely kept Chinese immigrants out of the country until the Magnuson Act in 1943. During World War II, Japanese Americans on the West Coast (where most of them lived) were interned in inland camps, and many lost their homes and businesses as a result.

There were several reasons why Asian immigrants were treated differently than Europeans. They were linguistically different than other groups, and they looked different from Europeans. In addition, they were seen as threatening and as taking jobs away from white Americans. In part, jealousy and greed were behind the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, as many Japanese Americans owned and operated lucrative farms and other businesses. Their success, in part, propelled the public to move to intern them during the war, though at the time, the reason given by the government was that Japanese Americans were likely to aid the Japanese military in an invasion of the West Coast.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Asia immigrants were treated differently than Europeans immigrants in the early 20th century. There are several examples of this.

One example was the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. The law prevented Chinese immigrants from coming to the United States for ten years. It also prevented those Chinese who were already living in the United States but who weren’t citizens of the country from becoming citizens during this ten-year period. This law was extended in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. While this law was eventually repealed in the 1940s, this law was the first time a targeted group of immigrants was prevented from coming to the United States.

There were two other laws that targeted Asian immigration to the United States in the early 1900s. The Gentlemen’s Agreement and the Oriental Exclusion Act limited the number of immigrants from Asia to the United States. There were other laws passed that limited the opportunities for Asians to own land and get meaningful employment. Asian immigrants also experienced segregation, specifically in the schools of San Francisco in 1906.

While European immigrants faced some forms of discrimination, it was much worse for Asian Americans.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

While essentially all immigrants had a hard time when they came to the United States during this time, Asian immigrants had it worse than European immigrants.  This was largely because they were seen as more alien to white Americans.

The different treatment of Asians began before the 20th century.  There was, for example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned most Chinese immigration for 10 years.  The ban on Chinese immigrants was made permanent in 1904.

Asians were also discriminated against more overtly than Europeans.  San Francisco, for example, had segregated schools for Asians in the early 20th century.  The naturalization of Asian immigrants was also illegal.  This is why, for example, the first generation Japanese immigrants who were in the US during WWII were not American citizens while their children were.

All immigrant groups faced problems in America.  But the problems were worse for Asians because of their race.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial