The Limits of Exclusion: The Confluence of Labor, Race, and Firms in the Transpacific World of Commerce, 190037

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 2:10 PM
Crystal Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Kashia Amber Arnold, University of California, Santa Barbara
During the Chinese Exclusion Era (1882-1943), Chinese labor was barred from legal entry into the U.S., ushering in a critical phase in U.S. history when American workers were to be protected from economic competition with “cheap Chinese labor.” Scholars have excavated the various mechanisms and maintenance of this exclusion, as well as the transnational migratory networks facilitating Chinese mobility. Notwithstanding, scholars’ emphasis on acts of exclusion to analyze U.S. immigration policy, and respective anti-Chinese labor sentiments, raises questions about the limits of Chinese Exclusion policies and politics. Recently, historians, including Lon Kurashige and Beth Lew-Williams, have argued for the need to examine countermeasures to the Chinese Exclusion Era, and inclusion of Chinese immigrants in ways that transcend racial color lines.[1] My paper contributes to this conversation by analyzing the centrality of Chinese labor to the changing transnational infrastructure of trans-Pacific trade, which included the expansion of trade flows and rise of Japanese shipping beginning in the early 20th century. I argue that despite numerous legal injunctions and legislation barring Chinese seamen from competing with Anglo labor, as well as protests from labor unions in the U.S., Hong Kong, Dutch East Indies, and Japan, they remained a critical labor supply for U.S. and other transnational firms in the Pacific. To understand how this was possible, I intend to examine the limits of exclusion by treating the realm of trans-Pacific trade as a space of inclusion where Chinese labor subsidized and shaped U.S. integration with the transnational economy of the Pacific basin.

[1] Lon Kurashige, Two Faces of Exclusion: The Untold History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016); Beth Lew-Williams, “’Chinamen’ and ‘Delinquent Girls’: Intimacy, Exclusion, and a Search for California’s Color Line,” Journal of American History 104, no. 3 (December 2017): 632-655.

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