Colorful graphic of a gold bridge over blue water with lettering across the bridge, and under it


Better Lives, Bitter Lies

In the 19th & 20th centuries, countless people sailed into San Francisco Bay seeking better lives. For many, arrival meant living w/ ideas that shaped their personal histories & the waterfront’s. This podcast explores several of these ideas, using points around SF Maritime National Historical Park as springboards. Regardless if the ideas took the form of myth, propaganda, or outright falsehood, they beg a question: must forging better lives always be entwined with facing bitter lies? Now on Apple Podcasts!


Little Brown Brothers

Open Transcript


[marching music] SO: Hey Anne! AM: Hi Sabrina! What have we got going on today? SO: Well… what do you think about taking a trip out the Golden Gate? AM: What? Really? [SO: Mhm] When? Yes! SO: I mean, metaphorically. AM: Oh. That’s fine, too, of, let me just console myself with coffee. SO: I’m so sorry! [AM: Eh] I also have some tea? [AM: I do like tea.] Okay, but, see, we’ve been talking a lot about ships that have sailed into the strait, bringing people to San Francisco from across the Pacific. Today, I think we can look at another side of that story: American ships have been sailing out of it to cross the ocean too. And, as much as I know we both want to go on vacations, I’d say these weren’t pleasure cruises departing from Fisherman’s Wharf. AM: Vacations? [SO: Mm] Cruises? Mmm, after our last episode about plague rats aboard ships, it might be a while for me...But, that’s true. For much of the time period we’ve been tracking -- and a long time before and after -- the U.S. was mostly going to Asia for commercial, diplomatic, or military operations. SO: These reasons are part of why and how so many different Asians -- beyond the gold mountain men, the paper children, and the daughters of joy -- started coming here. AM: Right. We’ve been talking mostly about the historical Chinese experience in California, but there are at least 24 distinct groups within the category “Asian American.” SO: So let me rephrase: for today, what do you think about taking a trip out of both Chinatown and the Golden Gate? AM: A metaphorical trip is still a trip! Let’s goooo! [pauses] Wait. Where exactly are we going? SO: Hmn, well this totally real itinerary says the Presidio, the Philippines... then back across to the States... to hop around the South and East Coast... before we sail home… by Angel Island to Hyde Street Pier. AM: Hmmm, that itinerary looks a lot like a history book...but I see where this is going and if you don’t mind, I’ll get this trip started! SO: Anchors aweigh! AM: So -- Today, people of Chinese descent make up the largest single minority living in San Francisco. They also comprise the largest Asian American subgroup. But, of all these subgroups in the city and country, the second-largest is Filipino; the entire Bay Area is home to about half a million Filipinos. SO: And the population is such that--along with English, Spanish, and Chinese--Tagalog is the most commonly spoken language in the city, as well as California and the United States! AM: Now, the Chinese were the first Asians to come to California in significantly large numbers, mainly due to the Gold Rush. [SO: Mhm] But weren’t Filipinos actually the first known Asians to set foot on what would become the continental U.S.? SO: Yeah! Filipino crew on a Spanish galleon landed briefly in Morro Bay, California in 1587. Those Manila galleons -- as they were called -- sailed along this coast as they traded silk, silver, spices, and other goods between the Philippines and Mexico from 1565 to 1815. AM: Like California before U.S. annexation, both were then under Spanish colonial rule. SO: Right. Yet while galleons sailed to and from the Philippines -- and their crews became mainly Filipino and Chinese -- thousands of other people from Southeast, East, and South Asia also came to the Americas through the galleon trade. Often, they were aboard as sailors, servants, or slaves. AM: And, by 1763, Filipinos who’d worked on such ships made their way to Louisiana and established a settlement near New Orleans. St. Malo, as it’s called, is said to be the oldest continuous Asian American community in North America. SO: You know, a billion storage servers can be devoted to podcasts on how the Manila galleon trade linked Asia and the Americas for 250 years. But for now we only have this podcast, so we should stop me and we should skip a couple centuries to 1898. AM: Sounds good. SO: [chuckles] That’s when Spain, the Philippines, and California once again became players in a familiar story of colonies and commerce -- this time with the United States stepping into a major role. AM: And that’s the story of the Spanish-American War, which led to the Philippine-American War, and the American conquest of the Philippines. These helped lead to the large-scale migration of Filipinos to the mainland U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century. [beginning melody of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”] AM: Before we keep going, I think we should point out that remnants of these wars are actually still all around. SO: Soldiers and supply ships left for the Pacific from the nearby Presidio, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. [AM: True] From the 1910s onward, through the Korean War in the 1950s, they did so through the San Francisco Port of Embarkation. That's now at the Fort Mason Center, right beside our park. AM: Mmhmm, and before deployment, tens of thousands of troops also camped in today’s Richmond District. And, speaking of ships, a couple of the Spanish-American War's most famous vessels -- including USS Olympia , the flagship of our Asiatic Fleet -- were built right at the city's Union Iron Works. And, we've talked about the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, right? SO: Yeah, it's been one of the constants through our episodes. AM: Several of their vessels were also chartered for the Spanish-American War. [SO: Hm!] There's even a film of the California Volunteers First Regiment boarding the steamer City of Peking at Pier 40. A monument to those soldiers stands on Market and Dolores Street – they were the first men to the Philippines. SO: Right. And there are other such remnants, but, before we keep going further, I also want to go back to a good point you made in a previous episode. AM: Which one? [laughs] SO: [incredulous chuckle] Are you complimenting yourself again? I forgot you were just drinking coffee. AM: Just matching you cup for teacup! SO: Mm, good point. Well. You had one great point [AM: Ha!] that the same historical event can be written about in different ways. And you’ve also said that we have to reconsider the stories that have been told to us -- since biases also frame the way we look at history, or the history we choose to look at. AM: Those are two good points. Or maybe three? SO: Many of your many good points... [AM: Hahaha, right back atcha] They come into play in some of the history we’re about to recap. AM: Which is the history behind the war also called the Philippine Insurrection? SO: Which is the point! That’s what it was called in American newspapers and textbooks. That’s still what it’s called on some websites. But you will never hear it called that in the Philippines. [AM: Hmm] It’s the Philippine-American War -- a war that was just one part of the Philippine Revolution. AM: I see what you mean. “Insurrection” implies uprising against an authority – and presumes the lawful authority was the U.S. But “revolution” means overthrowing an entire ruling system, such as colonialism -- and “war” denotes conflict between two sovereign nations. SO: Now I have to concede those are three good points. AM: It might be the coffee. SO: Maybe not just. [AM: mm] But you know what, let’s have more caffeine. The rest of this trip requires it! AM: Good point! [Melody of the Battle Hymn of the Republic] AM: Well. When you think about warfare, what adjectives come to mind? SO: Hmmm, tactical? Brutal? Militaristic? AM: How about “little” or “splendid”? SO: How about no? AM: Well, that’s how Secretary of State John Hay described the Spanish-American War, which centered on armed conflicts between Spain and the United States in Cuba and the Philippines. SO: Cuba’s history and its relationships with Spain and the United States are certainly worth diving into, but for this episode, let’s stick with the itinerary and stay in the Pacific theater. AM: You’ve got a deal. And theater is a good word for it, because this quote-unquote, splendid little war ended with a staged battle. SO: Wait, are you saying the Battle of Manila Bay was staged? AM: It depends which battle you’re talking about. The Spanish-American War lasted less than six months--from April 21, 1898 to December 10 of the same year, when the Treaty of Paris was signed. From what I’ve read, the Battle of Manila Bay which took place on May 1,1898, was a real battle between the naval forces of Spain and the United States and it’s recorded as a decisive victory for the U.S. And there’s a statue here in San Francisco to honor it. SO: That’s the Dewey Monument at the center of Union Square! [AM: Mhm] President William McKinley broke ground on the monument in 1901 and it was dedicated by his successor, President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. AM: That’s true! Now let’s backtrack a little. On August 12, 1898, the U.S. and Spanish governments signed a peace protocol in Washington, DC, which ended warfare in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. It also ceded Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Manila to the United States...dependent on a final peace treaty. The only problem was, word didn’t reach the Philippines, because Admiral George Dewey cut the cable between Manila and the outside world following the first Battle of Manila Bay on May 1st. SO: So on the morning of August 13, the second battle of Manila commenced. Can you hear the quotes in my voice? [AM: Yep] The United States and Spain staged it so that the Spanish could concede the war without losing face… and so that the Filipino forces did not regain their independence. According to an article by the Smithsonian Institution, only Admiral Dewey, Major General Wesley Merritt, the Spanish Governor-General, and a Belgian consul knew the complete plan. The historian Teodoro Agoncillo later wrote that, quote, “ [t]he few casualties on both sides in the phony attack were due to some ‘actors’ bungling their ‘lines,’ or possibly to the fact that very few officers were let in on the charade.” AM: Of course, while a relatively bloodless battle ended the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War would be another story. Fought from February 4, 1899 to July 4, 1902, US forces lost roughly 4,400 soldiers, roughly 1,000 of whom were killed in action. 20,000 Filipino soldiers were killed in action. 200,000 Filipino civilians were killed during this conflict. In 1899, General Merritt told a journalist from the New York Sun that he had come, quote, “with orders not to treat with the [Filipinos]; not to recognize them, and not to promise anything”, end-quote. He went on to say that General Emilio Aguinaldo, the president of the Philippines, was, quote, “just the same to me as a boy in the street.” I also got that quote from a Smithsonian Institution article which asserted that t he U.S. military’s treatment of native Filipinos echoed the longer histories of Americans’ attitudes toward African Americans and Native Americans back home. SO: I can see that. While the U.S debated expansionism to the Philippines at the turn of the twentieth century, the U.S. had expanded across North America over the course of the 1800s. This resulted not only in war with Mexico, but in the dislocation and brutal mistreatment of Native American, Hispanic and other non-European occupants of the territories now being occupied by the United States. AM: We mentioned in a previous episode that San Francisco and California weren’t just there to be discovered. [SO: Mhm] Native American--or American Indian--nations had been living on these lands for thousands of years before Spanish explorers claimed it for their empire. In fact, our park is situated on Ramaytush Ohlone land. SO: That’s very true. And there’s an interesting connection there. In 1889, Jose Rizal, a Filipino reformist living in Paris, was at the Paris World Exposition. There was a performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West that drew cheers of “Indians brave!” from the French crowds. The cries inspired Rizal to reclaim a term which the Spanish had been using to demean native inhabitants of the Philippines. Rizal told his friends, “Let us wear the name indio as our badge of racial pride! Let us make the Spaniards revise the concept of the indio--we shall become Indios Bravos!” AM: Los Indios Bravos-- as the group was called--worked together to write and publish works that raised awareness of the mistreatment of the people of the Philippines under Spanish rule. SO: The poet Luis Francia would later argue, "By taking a term, ‘Indios,' and shaping it as something positive and aspirational, political reformist and national hero José Rizal captured, in the late 19th century, the first moment in the history of the colony where a group of intellectuals started to think of themselves as a nation." AM: What’s that saying--the pen is mightier than the sword? SO: [chuckles] Well, we both know it’s more complicated than that, [AM: Mhm] but claiming the power of the pen is a significant step in giving a mission or a movement more permanence...And, I suppose, it is more difficult to judge a person by the color of their skin when you can only read their words. [music transition: “Battle Hymn of the Republic” continued] SO: Speaking of the written word, you know who else seems to be a constant through our episodes? AM: Who’s that? SO: William Randolph Hearst! AM: What does he have to do with things now?! SO: Well, we mentioned it a few episodes back, but Hearst’s newspaper, the New York Journal , and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World continued their competition for readership beyond The Yellow Kid cartoon. And you know what they used to do it? The Spanish-American War. AM: That’s true! Today, historians argue whether Hearst’s and Pulitzer’s coverage caused or fomented the war; however, it’s widely accepted that their coverage heightened public awareness and maybe even resulted in public outcries for involvement. SO: With attention-grabbing headlines like “ Who Destroyed the Maine? $50,000 Reward,” “Spanish Treachery” and “Invasion!” that doesn’t surprise me. AM: From their headlines, the New York World, the New York Journal, and their publishers seemed to be in favor of war with Spain. But what happened after the war ended? SO: So the Spanish-American War formally ended in December 1898 with the Treaty of Paris. The United States took possession of Guam and Puerto Rico, and purchased the Philippines for 20 million dollars. It proceeded to establish military rule in the islands, with President William McKinley proclaiming that the government’s mission would be one of, quote, benevolent assimilation. AM: But as the twentieth century approached, there would be more battles to come. SO: The Filipinos, who had already declared their independence from Spain and established their own republic, were not suddenly going to embrace another nation’s rule. The Spanish-American War thus soon became the Philippine-American War. This formally lasted from 1899 to 1902, though resistance in the islands lasted till 1915. AM: Yet, as Filipinos continued fighting a new imperial power, Americans also found themselves divided over the question of empire. President McKinley himself had been torn about what to do with the Philippines. In an interview published in The Christian Advocate , he said that he had “walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight”, because he “did not know what to do.” SO: President McKinley came to these conclusions, as read by Ranger David Pelfrey: DP: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain-that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) That we could not turn them over to France or Germany, our commercial rivals in the Orient-that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) That we could not leave them to themselves-they were unfit for self-government, and they would soon have anarchy and misrule worse then Spain's was; and (4) That there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died. AM: At the same time, before the Spanish-American War even ceased, there was already a group that knew exactly what it did not want the U.S. to do. The American Anti-Imperialist League formed in June 1898 to oppose the annexation of the Philippines. They argued that doing so would go against the fundamental principles and noblest ideals of the United States -- specifically, the principle that“governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. SO: The Anti-Imperialist League drew support from many prominent figures – including Andrew Carnegie, Grover Cleveland, William James, Jane Addams, and Mark Twain, who wrote prolifically of his views. AM: In a piece for the New York Herald in October 1900, Twain harkens back to the concept of Manifest Destiny -- of the United States expanding farther west than the Rocky Mountains. He says: DP: I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific. It seemed tiresome and tame for it to content itself with the Rockies. Why not spread its wings over the Philippines? [...] But I have thought some more, since then,and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate [...] We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. . .And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land. SO: Ultimately though, the eagle did. As we noted, the Philippine-American War was brutal. Casualties reached the hundreds of thousands, as the U.S. military employed civilian reconcentration policies and the water cure on suspected guerrillas. Resulting epidemics and food shortages added to the death toll. And the violence was horrific from soldiers of both sides. AM: In one of the war’s darkest chapters, Filipinos ambushed U.S. troops on the island of Samar. Forty-eight soldiers died, many of them hacked to death before they could reach their firearms. Newspapers called it “the worst defeat of U.S. Army soldiers since the Battle of the Little Big Horn.” SO: American forces then responded with a campaign to pacify that island. The commanding officer was Brigadier General Jacob H. Smith, a veteran of the Battle of Wounded Knee. Smith ordered his men to kill all persons bearing arms and over the age of 10. His words were, quote, “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me… the interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness.” AM: While the war stretched on, the U.S. began setting up a civilian government, and winning over Filipinos -- especially among the elite -- whose visions for their country ranged from U.S. statehood to complete independence.These efforts were led by the first Governor-General of the Philippines, William Howard Taft, who was less militaristic than his predecessors. SO: Taft implemented policies that allowed Filipinos a degree of participation in government. His administration laid the groundwork for the first truly coeducational and public school and health systems in the Philippines. And it was also Taft who coined a phrase that would follow the relationship of the two countries for years to come. Taft told President McKinley, quote, “Our little brown brothers [would need] fifty or one hundred years [of close supervision] to develop anything resembling Anglo-Saxon political principles and skills.” AM: Okay, wait. I feel we should step back and really look at that phrase: “little brown brothers.” There’s a lot to unpack there. SO: Mm, not to mention in pretty much all the rhetoric we’ve been quoting. AM: That’s very true. But there is one more speech we should quote here. SO: Oh, are we going from quoting newspaper excerpts to speeches? AM: Mmhm, but don’t worry. Neither of us has to recite it. SO: We don’t? AM: Not this time! It’s this speech Taft made in September 1908 as the Republican nominee for president. It recaps why American policies should continue in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Amazingly, this speech was recorded and is preserved in full on the Library of Congress website. Let’s listen to some excerpts now: WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT [AUDIO]: The Republican Party has pursued consistently, the policy originally adopted with respect to the dependencies that came to us as a result of the Spanish War. [...] In the Philippines, the experiment of a National Assembly has justified itself both as an assistant in the government of the island, and as an education and the practice of self-government to the people of the island. We have established a government with effective and honest executive department and a clean and fearless administration of justice. We have created and are maintaining a comprehensive school system, which is educating the youth of the island in English and in industrial branches. We have constructed great government public works, roads, and harbor. We have induced the private construction of 800 miles of railroad. We have policed the island so that their conditions as to law and order is better now than it ever has been in their history. It is quite unlikely that the people, because of the dense ignorance of 90%, will be ready for complete self-government and independence before two generations have passed. But the policy of increasing partial self-government step-by-step as the peoples shall show themselves fit for it should be continued. The proposition of the Democratic platform is to turn over the island as soon as a stable government is established – this has been established. The proposal then, is in effect to turn them over at once. Such action would lead to ultimate chaos in the islands and the progress among the ignorant masses and education in better living will stop. We are engaged in the Philippines in a great missionary work that does our nation honor, and is certain to promote in a most effective way the influence of Christian civilization. It is cowardly to lay down the burden until our purpose is achieved. [audio break - no music] SO: Alright, so, how do we even begin unpacking all that? AM: Well, I don’t think we can until we talk about the song we’ve been playing all episode. SO: You mean “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”? AM: I do! Which means I also mean “John Brown’s Body.” SO: Go on. AM: Well, the song we know today as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was originally a marching tune written by Union soldiers during the Civil War. Many people at the time, including the abolitionist writer Julia Ward Howe, thought the song was about the abolitionist leader, John Brown, who gained notoriety during what is known today as “Bleeding Kansas.” This referred to the struggle between pro-slavery forces and abolitionists during Kansas’ election to become a state either prohibiting or permitting slavery. In October 1859, John Brown led the raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, to seize weapons from the armory and local pro-slavery leaders. Though Brown and his company of roughly 22 volunteers--including several formerly enslaved Black men--did succeed in capturing the armory, the abolitionists were captured by the future Confederate General Robert E. Lee and a company of Marines under orders from President James Buchanan. SO: John Brown was executed by hanging on December 2, 1859. His death would spur fellow abolitionists to more decisive action, eventually leading to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. But the song isn’t about this John Brown? AM: Well, not originally! A Scottish soldier by the name of John Brown served in the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia during the Civil War. His fellow soldiers often joked with him about this. They created a teasing song with a contagious melody which spread to other units, who didn’t know the joke. So as the song gained popularity, it gained verses about the other John Brown. Including John Brown was a hero, undaunted, true, and brave; Kansas knew his valor when he fought her rights to save; And now the grass grows green above his grave, His truth is marching on! And John Brown died that the slaves might be free But his soul is marching on! SO: And when Julia Ward Howe attended a public parade and review of Union troops in Washington, D.C., in 1861, the melody stuck and inspired her. She came up with her own lyrics and created this well-known hymn: [“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (1917 recording)] Mine eyes hath seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on. Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. AM: What strikes me is the moral imperativism here. And when you realize that it is a song written by one abolitionist to the tune of a song that had become, in truth, an ode to another abolitionist...well, it fits. This song would be minorly altered over time too. The alteration that sticks out the most to me is the changing the line, “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” Now, we sing, “let us live to make men free.” SO: And this wouldn’t be the last version of this song to be written during wartime. Mark Twain, who, as we’ve said, was a member of the Anti-Imperialist League, wrote a quote-unquote “updated” version of the hymn, which ends with the following verse: DP: In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch, With a longing in his bosom—and for others' goods an itch. As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich— Our god is marching on. Woe and death can turn a profit. Warfare needs a wealthy prophet! Woe and death through war, don't stop it! It's war that makes men rich! AM: The Anti-Imperialist League itself drew a clear line from the Civil War to the Spanish- and Philippine-American wars. Take these excerpts from their platform: “[I]n the Philippines, greatly as we regret that the blood of the Filipinos is on American hands, we more deeply resent the betrayal of American institutions at home. The real firing line is not in the suburbs of Manila. The foe is of our own household. The attempt of 1861 was to divide the country. That of 1899 is to destroy its fundamental principles and noblest ideals.” [music transition: “Battle Hymn of the Republic” instrumental section] SO: Speaking of the anti-imperialist movement -- and of so-called “little brown brothers” -- can we please talk about a few literal and figurative sisters too? AM: Yes! What kind of show are we if we don’t pass the Bechdel Test? SO: Good point! It’s important to keep in mind that people of different genders, races, and nationalities participated in the national imperialism debate. All genders were involved with the Anti-Imperialist League… though not equally represented. Women did not yet have suffrage. And there were very real and often violent barriers to voting for men of color. At the league’s Chicago Liberty Meeting in 1899, Jane Addams was the only female plenary speaker of eight when she said this: “To ‘protect the weak’ has always been the excuse of the ruler and tax-gatherer, the chief, the king, the baron; and now, at last, of ‘the white man’”. AM: White women weren’t the only under-remembered population to make significant arguments in the debate of imperialism. Among the Black public figures who spoke out against imperialism was Ida B. Wells, an early leader of the civil rights movement, who said that Black Americans should oppose expansion until the government was able to protect Black people at home. And the racist implications were not lost on Filipinas either. SO: In 1901, 26-year-old Clemencia Lopez, member of an elite Filipino family, traveled to the United States to petition the release of her brothers, who had been imprisoned for their revolutionary activities. That mission was unsuccessful, but it didn’t stop her fighting for her people’s freedom. AM: As a guest of the Anti-Imperialist League, Clemencia stayed in the country for over a year, speaking out for Philippine independence. As she did so, she herself served as living proof that Filipinos were not uneducated, uncivilized, and incapable of self-rule. Her first and most famous speaking engagement was with the New England Woman’s Suffrage Association. At Boston’s integral Park Street Church, to an audience of 400, she stated common cause with the women who were fighting for independence through the individual right to vote. SO: Delivering her speech in Spanish, Clemencia Lopez said: I believe that we are both striving for much the same object — you for the right to take part in national life; we for the right to have a national life to take part in. . . . In the name of the Philippine women, I pray [you] do what [you] can to remedy all this misery and misfortune in my unhappy country. You can do much to bring about the cessation of these horrors and cruelties which are today taking place in the Philippines, and to insist upon a more human course. . . you ought to understand that we are only contending for the liberty of our country, just as you once fought for the same liberty for yours. AM: Interestingly, it was the fact that Clemencia was a woman that enabled her to speak so openly. Perceived as “delicate”, she could, as the scholar Laura Prieto said, talk about “the ‘delicate subject’ of autonomy for the Philippines in ways that Filipino men could not.” SO: Personally, I am just impressed that at this time when she would have been seen as this little brown sister, appealing to a room probably full of, well, big white sisters, she seems to have just stood there at the podium and spoke to these women -- and men -- as equals. Nothing more. Nothing less. AM: Personally, I am impressed that she seemed to understand that, well, the fight for freedom is the fight for freedom is the fight for freedom. Before she returned to the Philippines, she gave a final speech at a luncheon presided over by Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, a friend of John Brown who assisted his raid on Harper’s Ferry. The guests included other figures in the abolitionist movement. Clemencia remarked, “These names became famous at a time when the victim was the black man. Now it is the brown.” SO: Ultimately, despite any well-meaning intentions behind the phrase "little brown brothers", the sincerest acts of benevolence, a genuine openness to assimilation, and developments that undoubtedly took place during the American period in the Philippines -- that phrase was just always going to be problematic, wasn't it? AM: Historians would later call it an example of “paternalist racism.” But, in fact, from the moment Taft popularized that description, it was already met with skepticism from both Americans and Filipinos because of the bloodshed of the war. And soldiers on the ground made up a telling song. Here it is, as performed for the PBS documentary “Crucible of Empire.” [Music begins] I am only a common soldier in the blasted Philippines They say I've got brown brothers here but I dunno what it means I like the word 'fraternity' but still I draw the line Oh, he may be a brother of Big Bill Taft But he ain't no brother of mine [Music ends] SO: The complex and contradictory nature of the “little brown brother” concept would follow Filipinos as they began coming to the mainland United States. One manifestation was their immigration status -- they weren’t even considered immigrants or aliens. They were “U.S. nationals.” But they weren’t “citizens.” AM: The first wave came as students through the Pensionado Act of 1903, which established a scholarship program for Filipinos wishing to attend school in the United States. This program lasted 40 years, ending in 1943. As part of the program, the students agreed to serve 18 months in the government of the Philippines after graduating. SO: The students accepted under the Pensionado Act were incredibly bright people. You could think of it as the Fulbright scholarship for its time. [AM: Hmm] Some criticize pensionados as “good colonials”, and some say they used the American educational system for nationalist ends. Regardless, they went on to have major impacts on healthcare, government, education, and the arts in both the United States and the Philippines. AM: It’s funny you mention the Fulbright, because the Pensionado program was the largest US scholarship program until the Fulbright scholarship began in 1948. SO: Really? I didn’t know that! [AM: Mhm!] But in addition to students, Filipinos who served in the U.S. military also arrived in the United States. Laborers also began coming over to Hawaii, recruited to the sugar plantations. According to the U.S. Census, nearly 113,000 Filipinos arrived in Hawaii between 1909 and 1931. More than 18,000 of them would migrate to the mainland U.S. where they primarily found work in the agriculture and fishing industries. AM: The numbers increased steadily through the 1920s, as the Dollar Steamship Company began offering affordable third-class tickets from Manila to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Over 31,000 Filipinos arrived at California ports in that decade. Given their status as U.S. nationals, they did not face the same hardships and barriers that other Asian immigrant populations faced… at least, not initially. For example, they did not have to go through the inspections and interrogations at Angel Island Immigration Station that Chinese arrivals did. “I just got off the boat,” the migrant Eliseo Felipe said, “It was like getting off the bus.” SO: And then -- as now -- many found it relatively easier to adapt to life in the U.S. Their generation was familiar with American ideals, culture, and values. A significant number went to American-style schools and spoke English. Many had been raised to pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag and fully considered themselves Americans. One Filipino immigrant interviewed in 1924 said, “We have heard much of America as a land of the brave and the free, land of opportunity, and we pictured her as a land of ‘Paradise’.” AM: However, white citizens of the United States were largely unwilling to accept these nationals with so many shared experiences as their brothers or sisters. Pretty soon, people immigrating to the United States from the Philippines were characterized as yet another, quote-unquote, “Asiatic invasion”. California labor officials argued that, quote, “Filipinos, like other Asians, took away jobs from a broad swath of white American workers,” end-quote. Signs began appearing which declared “Positively No Filipinos Allowed” and “No Filipinos or Dogs Allowed”. The Filipino American icon Carlos Bulosan -- we’ll be talking about him more in the next episode -- said, “I know deep down in my heart that I am an exile in America. I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I didn't commit. And this crime is that I am a Filipino in America.” SO: All this led to -- as we’ve heard happen with Chinese immigrants -- Filipinos forming communities for themselves. Here in San Francisco, a Manilatown emerged on Kearney Street, right next to Chinatown. This, too, was a bachelor society -- especially as, in 1933, California extended its anti-miscegenation laws to forbid marriage between Filipinos and whites. AM: And, ultimately, they would also be excluded from coming to the United States by law. As Erika Lee and Judy Yung summarized in their book, Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America : “Lawmakers began to recognize that Filipino exclusion could only be achieved through Philippine independence. California State Attorney General Ulysses S. Webb made the connection between the two explicit in congressional hearings in 1931. “We want exclusion of the Filipinos and independence would exclude them,” he explained. “If independence were granted, that would make them automatically subject to the act of 1924 [which stipulated that no ‘alien ineligible to citizenship’ would be admitted]... For their part, Philippine nationalists, who struggled to free their country from the United States, were willing to trade independence for Filipino exclusion, and their support allowed for new legislation to be drafted and passed.” SO: In 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Bill would strip Filipinos living in the U.S. of their status as nationals as a part of a stepped program to Philippine independence. Like so many other Asian immigrants, Filipinos became “aliens.” They were also subjected to an annual immigration quota of 50 people. AM: The Tydings-McDuffie Act did grant the Philippines commonwealth status immediately and a promise of full independence after 10 years. On July 4, 1946 -- after Filipinos and Americans indeed lived and died side by side as brothers and sisters through World War II – the Stars and Stripes came down in the islands, and the Philippine flag, with its sun and stars, flew at last on its own. [“Lupang Hinirang” plays] SO: We’ve just heard the first part of the Philippine national anthem, Lupang Hinirang, which was first written as an instrumental march in 1898 and later set to Spanish lyrics. It is now in Filipino, but when its official English version was still sung, those verses read, “Land dear and holy / cradle of noble heroes / never shall invaders / trample thy sacred shores.” AM: I guess I wasn’t kidding when I said our totally real itinerary looked like a history textbook. We’ve sure traveled across time and space! SO: I guess all the caffeine was worth it? [ AM : always.] [laughs] But, like that itinerary says, there’s one last stop to make. AM: And this can’t be anything else but our very own Hyde Street Pier. Honestly, it’s amazing we did so much traveling. If we wanted a lens specifically into the times we’ve been talking about, we could have also started right here, at our park, with one of our ships. SO: The last port of one voyage is always the first port of the next one... Um, yes. I just made up a proverb. AM: Haha, the tea is still working, I see! But, see, our square-rigger, Balclutha, was right at the edges of all the histories we’ve been talking about. For starters, she was part of trade with Asia. In the 1890s, when she sailed to and from San Francisco as a British ship, her ports of call included Myanmar and India. SO: And, after Balclutha changed from British to Hawaiian ownership, she soon became the last vessel to fly the flag of the Hawaiian kingdom. That’s because -- around the time the U.S. acquired the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico -- the U.S. also annexed Hawaii and organized it into a territory. AM: Of course, in 1901, it was Balclutha ’s turn to officially become a U.S. citizen--and that’s when the ship stopped hovering around the edges of the histories we’ve covered in this podcast, and became a more crucial piece to understanding them. [instrumental music begins]

John C. Fremont named the entrance to San Francisco Bay "the Golden Gate to the Orient." What has happened when ships crossed it to build their empire on the other side of the ocean? This episode examines a chapter of history that led to the United States expanding into Asia -- and brought Filipinos to California believing a distinct version of the American Dream.

A Sickness Upon These Shores

Open Transcript


Episode 5: A Sickness Upon These Shores

AM: Sabrina…

SO: Anne…

AM: We’ve already talked about a lot of things on this podcast. But . Remember when we started this project, there was a very special and very specific topic we agreed to discuss? Today is the day.

SO: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

AM: Evasion tactics will not work.

SO: I really have no idea what you’re talking about.

AM: Today, we finally talk about that ultimate question we get as park guides at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

SO: Do you mean “Hi Ranger! Why did Michel Foucault say that ships are the heterotopia par excellence?”

AM: You know exactly what I mean.

SO: [Sighs] I guess I do.

AM: Today, we face the question: “Where’s the bathroom?”

[music ends]

AM: Alright. So, we’re not actually concerned with where the restrooms in the park are.

SO: Too bad. That wouldn’t have taken much research.

AM: [Laughs] true. But we are going to get a bit into sanitation, hygiene, and public health. The idea of this podcast came to us six months ago as shelter-in-place began in San Francisco and we were trying to figure out what engaging with the public would look like without sharing a physical space. So...we turned to research.

SO: And the books we stuck our noses in taught us so much about parts of San Francisco and Chinatown’s history that we knew very little about. Like David K. Randall’s Black Death at the Golden Gate, where we learned that an ancient disease which wiped out a third of Europe landed on San Francisco’s shores just over a century ago.

AM: Aaaand if not for the courage of a fearless crew, San Francisco would be lost? SO: Mmm, kind of, but let’s leave the fictional ships at bay.

AM: San Francisco Bay?

SO: Oh, my god. Stop. We have to start this episode!

AM : [laughs] Okay, okay. But first, a bathroom break?

SO : This podcast is over. AM: Oh, no. Please no. I’m sorry!

SO: Over.

AM: [laughs] Okay, fine! All teasing aside, we were coping with a pandemic that had no cure, no clear-cut symptoms, and the news and recommendations seemed to change constantly. Personally, it was overwhelming.

SO: And while the COVID-19 outbreak bears many resemblances to the flu epidemic of 1918 to 1919, our attention was drawn to the similarities it also has with the bubonic plague outbreaks in San Francisco at the turn of the twentieth century.

AM: In our previous episodes, we’ve talked about the opening of trade with Asia, immigration, exclusion laws, sensationalist newspapers and “yellow journalism”, Chinatown, and Angel Island. And in researching this episode, we saw these various threads converge…are you ready to get started?

SO: Am I ever? [ AM laughs]

[music / audio break]

AM: Before we can really begin to talk about the bubonic plague’s effect on San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century, I think we need to do some traveling. The bubonic plague devastated Europe from 1347 to 1352 under the guise of the Black Death. Entering Europe through trade, the Black Death was carried by rats between ships sailing from the Black Sea.

SO: Was it known as the Black Death because it was associated with the Black Sea?

AM: That’s a good guess, but as far as I can tell, no. It was called the Black Death because if someone had it, the sores that appeared on their skin, and the surrounding area, often turned black.

SO: I was asking because fear of having such a disease come over from the sea was very real and dangerous. [AM: Mhm] And fear of a disease can quickly become fear of the people you associate with that disease. [AM: Mmm] Did you know that Angel Island was originally set up as a quarantine zone before it became the major immigration station?

AM: I did! We talk a lot about the Chinese people who immigrated through Angel Island, but so many different nationalities were processed through the station. Other immigrants came from the Punjab, Russia, the Philippines, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and around Latin America as well.

SO: Not for nothing was Angel Island known as the “Ellis Island of the West” -- referring to the immigration station across the country, in New York Harbor, within sight of our nation’s most well-known monument to liberty and welcome. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886. In 1903, a plaque bearing Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus” was affixed to its pedestal, proclaiming the following words:

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

AM: But fire and fear burned through immigrant and racially diverse neighborhoods throughout the United States, even after the Statue of Liberty raised her torch and lit the way for the huddled masses to seek better lives. The year before she began welcoming immigrants through this golden door, Chinese communities throughout the western United States were targeted brutally and violently. In 1887, arson burned San Jose’s Chinatown. According to Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans by Jean Pfaelzer,

“with superhuman efforts” the city’s Alert Hose Fire Company “saved the ground on which Chinatown was located and prevented the spread of the fire to surrounding buildings”. The Chinese buildings burned, it said, because the firemen found “poor hose” and “low water pressure.” Even aided by the mayor and some city councilmen, the Chinese fire brigade was unable to check the flames because someone had drained the Chinese water tank. It was not by chance that during the two weeks preceding the blaze prominent white property owners in Chinatown had added heavily to their fire insurance.

SO: And just a few, short years later, in 1899, fire was used to, quote-unquote, cleanse Honolulu’s Chinatown of the bubonic plague. Hawaii had been designated a United States territory the year before. This was the first time in recorded history that bubonic plague had reached the islands.

AM: The first reported person to suffer from bubonic plague in Honolulu was a forty-year-old bookkeeper named Yuk Hoy. In early December 1899, he was brought to Dr. Li Khai Fai and his wife, Dr. Kong Tai Heong, by another man living in the same boarding house. Drs. Li and Kong had graduated from the Canton Medical School and settled in Hawaii just a few years before. They had both cared for victims of the bubonic plague which had just ravaged Hong Kong. When Yuk Hoy was delivered to their office, their worst fears were realized.

SO: They contacted the Honolulu Board of Health, despite the mistrust between the Chinese immigrant population of Honolulu and the newly installed, primarily white American government. Within five days, seven plague victims were found in Honolulu. Six of them were Chinese. The Board of Health ordered a five-day quarantine of Chinatown and enforced it with armed guards.

AM: And just as the quarantine was set to end, more victims began appearing, both inside and around Chinatown. The Board of Health, in desperation and without scientific proof or warning to the residents of Chinatown, turned to fire to stop the outbreak. On the last day of the nineteenth century, the Board of Health used controlled burns to, quote-unquote, “cleanse” two buildings of the plague and unhouse over seventy Chinese residents.

SO: And roughly three weeks later, the controlled burns got out of control. Winds caught the flames and residents of Chinatown were initially barred from breaking the quarantine boundary and fleeing the burning neighborhood. By the time the fire was controlled, commercial, religious, and residential buildings were destroyed, and eight thousand people--mostly Chinese, Japanese, and native Hawaiians-- had lost their homes.

AM: Is it any surprise that the residents of San Francisco’s Chinatown reacted with fear and outrage when they woke up the morning of March 7, 1900, to their own police-enforced quarantine?

SO: Strangely, this public health measure snaked the boundaries of Chinatown to exclude white-owned businesses from the forced quarantine. [AM: Hymn] However, businesses outside Chinatown who employed Chinese residents--mostly hotels, restaurants, and private families--were furious at the loss of their servants. The Chronicle even reported, quote, “The Chinese were not the only people to suffer. The white employers of the Chinese awoke to find that there was nobody on hand to prepare breakfast.”

AM: Do I detect a note of sarcasm in that report?

SO: It does seem a little tongue-in-cheek, but the outrage was real...and misplaced. And with the Bulletin , the Call , and the Chronicle calling the plague “fake”, it was not long before public officials bowed to public pressure and the gerrymandered quarantine was lifted.

AM: I think it’s time to remember the people involved and let’s start by talking about Wong Chut King.

[music / audio break]

AM: Wong Chut King’s life in San Francisco was typical of the Chinese experience at the time. He was a laborer living in a residential hotel in Chinatown. He didn’t have a bed, let alone a room to claim as his own, and the majority of the money he made was sent back to his wife and family in China.

SO: It’s a very familiar story. And, as we discussed last episode, men like him, living in a “bachelor society”, would seek companionship and sex almost exclusively in brothels on the Barbary Coast.

AM: It’s important to remember that, because when Wong Chut King noticed large painful bumps around his groin in early February 1900, his first thought was not that he had contracted a disease that devastated Europe and killed over 25 million people in the fourteenth century -- or even one that, more recently in the 1890s, terrorized port cities around the world, especially Hong Kong. He believed the lumps were probably symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection. So did the Chinese holistic medicine practitioner he went to, who treated him for an STI and sent him home.

SO: Wong Chut King’s life may have been typical, but his death on the afternoon of March 6, 1900 cemented his place in the history books. [AM: Mmm] Later that evening, a city health officer making rounds at a coffin shop discovered the lumps on his body. The Board of Health called an emergency meeting. By morning, Chinatown had been roped off.

AM: As we discussed earlier, this sudden quarantine was contentious -- especially since no one was sure why it was in place. Wong Chut King, so far, was one known victim, but not many knew about him… yet. If the plague had indeed reached the mainland United States, officials from the mayor to the governor preferred to cover it up. The economies and reputations of San Francisco and California depended on it.

SO: There was one person in the city who could have definitively said the plague had arrived, because he had identified it in Wong Chut King’s body. This was the head of the Marine Hospital Service in San Francisco: the bacteriologist Joseph Kinyoun.

AM: The Marine Hospital Service was originally founded in 1798 for the care of ill and disabled seamen. By the late 19th century, it was not only overseeing hospitals at ports; it was also monitoring and gatekeeping diseases that might spread through them. Earlier in his career, on Staten Island, Joseph Kinyoun established the laboratory that has since become the National Institute of Health. In 1899, he was put in charge of the quarantine station on Angel Island – and now, he was suddenly in charge of stopping the bubonic plague.

SO: Which was not an easy task, [AM: No] considering how little even scientists knew then about how exactly it spread, much less how to treat it. They knew the bacterium that caused it -- but not, as we now know, that this was spread by fleas that live on small animals, like squirrels or rats. Today, the infection is fairly easy to fight. You just need some antibiotics.

AM: Does that mean, of all the things that could still happen this year, I am prepared for the bubonic plague?

SO: I’d like to think it’s as easy as that! Which it wasn’t, 120 years ago, when there was no such thing as antibiotics. For that moment -- tell me if you’ve heard this in a year that isn’t 1900 -- isolation and quarantine was the closest thing officials could think of as an immediate response.

AM: Huh. Yet, that wasn’t necessarily a response influenced only by hard science. I mean, the mayor at this time was James D. Phelan, the politician who ran with the slogan, “Keep California White.”

SO: Right. Phelan proclaimed that this first quarantine was justified as a defense against, quote, the “Asiatic infection to which San Francisco is constantly exposed.” He further called the Chinese “a menace to public health.”

AM: Kinyoun, with his considerable scientific prowess, was not immune to similar views. As David Randall, the author of Black Death at the Golden Gate , put it: “For all of his achievements in understanding the human body at a cellular level, [Kinyoun] was never quite capable of ignoring the outer shell of race.”

SO: Ultimately, he pushed for further quarantine and house-to-house inspections of Chinatown -- which made him clash again with officials who denied the possibility and gravity of the plague, as well as the people living in Chinatown. Kinyoun told his boss, the Surgeon General Walter Wyman, that he anticipated residents would flee.

AM: Upon the Surgeon General’s recommendation, President McKinley authorized the Marine Hospital Service to implement regulations, already contained within the Act of 1890, which strictly controlled the movement of people to prevent the spread of disease across state lines.

SO: Soon agents had orders to inspect all ships and trains leaving California, “ensure no Asians were on board” and “detain any Chinese or Japanese passengers regardless of their health.” The Marine Hospital Service was also allowed to refuse ticket sales for out-of-state transportation.

AM: And for those who did remain in Chinatown, another of Kinyoun’s measures did not go over well. Remember Ng Poon Chew?

SO: The author, and newspaper editor who was also called the Chinese Mark Twain?

AM: The very same! Pretty soon, Kinyoun and the Marine Hospital Service began offering an inoculation called the Haffkine serum or vaccine. The Haffkine serum was a prophylactic. It couldn’t cure the bubonic plague, but it could help prevent getting it. The inoculation used heat-killed bacteria, so there was basically no risk of contracting the plague from the treatment, but the side effects were terribly unpleasant.

SO: Interesting… but what does this have to do with Ng Poon Chew?

AM: [laughs] I’m getting there! The Haffkine serum wasn’t very popular with any of the public, but especially not with the residents of Chinatown who Kinyoun wanted to give it to, even if by force. In an effort to garner cooperation, public health officials asked the editor of the popular Chung Sai Yat Po, the Chinese Western Daily, to publicly take the inoculation. Ng Poon Chew agreed...and pretty quickly regretted it.

SO: Did he get sick?

AM: Not physically, as far as I can tell. But his office was surrounded by an angry mob, forcing him to hide in his home in Oakland for a few days. His newspaper was also boycotted and he lost roughly fifty percent of his readership. Sensing where his readership’s sentiment lay, Ng Poon Chew did not publicly support the inoculation drive again. He even called the vaccination, quote, “a form of modern torture”, end-quote.

SO: His newspaper, the Chinese Western Daily, published this poem on June 7, 1900:

”Officials, gentlemen, business people, laborers and merchants alike, are all people amidst trial and tribulation, stranded like caged birds, struggling for life like fish out of water. In all matters take care to preserve Chinatown; at all times protect and guard your neighbors.”

AM: The efforts to engage the Chinese community were erratic at best during Kinyoun’s time. He likely saw Ng Poon Chew’s about-face as treasonous, rather than in support of the only community supporting him. Now, Kinyoun’s speedy identification of the plague bacterium and his tenacious debates with city and state health officials likely slowed its spread by continuing to turn people’s attention to it. But his own racial biases were on display in his outreach--or lack thereof--to the community most directly affected by the initial wave of the plague.

SO: When a critic said of Kinyoun, “A real doctor was someone who practiced with patients, not microscopes”, that critic was questioning the legitimacy of bacteriology as a science. But it also hints at Kinyoun’s weakness. The Marine Hospital Service eventually replaced him. Of his successors, it was a surgeon named Rupert Blue who took a warmer, people-centered approach. Blue’s readiness to work with communities signaled a changing of the tides.

AM: For everyone’s sake, I sure hope so. But before we get into this, let’s talk a little bit about the popular racist public health theories and ordinances in place in San Francisco.

[music / audio break]

SO: Asian people were thought to be carriers of the bubonic plague, whether because of their “foreign habits” or their supposedly different biology. There was even this notion that they were more susceptible to it because Asian diets center around rice, unlike European diets around meat.

AM: The Surgeon General of the Navy at the time, W.K. Reypen, said the plague was a “disease peculiar to the Orient.” An editorial for the San Francisco Call said, “Occidental races are but little subject to it.”

SO: But, you know, looking at a disease in such narrow terms –

AM: -- and forgetting that the Black Plague devastated western Europe –

SO: -- informs the way you understand that disease, and how you can solve it or not.

AM: Exactly. And the quarantine of Chinatown was not the first discriminatory public health measure used in San Francisco. The Sanitary Ordinance, or Cubic Air Ordinance, was a local law put in place in 1870 which required a building to have at least 500 cubic feet of air for each adult residing within it. This law was considered discriminatory to Chinese residents who often lived in closer, more cramped quarters than their white counterparts.

SO : If arrested for violating the Sanitary Ordinance, Chinese people would protest by refusing to pay the fine and would be arrested for it. While jailed, they were subject to another discriminatory regulation, the Queue Ordinance. The Queue Ordinance required all men imprisoned at the city jail to have their heads shaved down to an inch of hair.

AM : This was during the several hundred-year period when Chinese men wore their hair in long braids, or queues. Requiring men to cut off their queues was forcing them to commit an “act of disgrace”. The quarantine also wouldn’t be the last discriminatory measure, as the travel restrictions we mentioned earlier suggest.

SO : Thankfully, things got done a bit differently after one of your favorite historical figures, Rupert Blue, entered the picture in 1903.

AM : Rupert Blue! Like Kinyoun, Blue was a gifted medical officer. Blue was not a bacteriologist and some would argue that Kinyoun was a far more gifted physician. However, what Blue lacked in scientific acumen, he made up for community-mindedness. We could even point to the fact that Kinyoun resided on Angel Island and Blue lived in the city.

SO : True. Rupert Blue arrived with two missions: He had to keep tracking cases, and – since the disease was attributed to the conditions Chinese lived in -- he had to launch a sanitation campaign in Chinatown. He set up an office and laboratory off Portsmouth Square, so he worked on the ground within the neighborhood itself. This enabled him to develop more personal connections with residents who had been previously skeptical of white doctors.

AM : Perhaps most importantly, Blue hired full-time an interpreter, Wong Chung, who was a secretary with the Chinese Six Companies. Wong proved to be more than an interpreter: he helped Blue enter doors previously closed to federal doctors, and helped him identify plague cases that would have been hidden from them. Blue was soon praised by the Chinese Six Companies for his, quote-unquote, “pleasant and courteous manner”, sincere in wanting to help, unlike Kinyoun who was seen as a “wolf doctor.”

SO : And Wong also answered Blue’s questions about Chinese culture. This was pretty significant, given that, for example, doctors didn’t understand why the Chinese protested autopsies of people who’d died of plague. That’s because they believe mutilating the body dooms the dead to remain on earth as ghosts, never reaching the afterlife.

AM : And when Blue temporarily left his post at San Francisco, Wong continued to track cases for the Marine Hospital Service. He kept finding proof there was a plague, even when many continued to say there was not.

SO : In a way, doing this was like a double-edged sword for Wong. If he identified more cases, doctors could get information to help control and end the epidemic. At the same time, discovering more cases could spur politicians to just burn Chinatown to the ground. [AM: Mm] I don’t imagine it was easy for him to keep at it, all the while being mistrusted by some Chinese for working so closely with white people, yet still also looked down on for not being white.

AM : I sense Wong Chung is a rabbit hole you want to jump into. [SO: Mmm] I do too, but let’s do some time-hopping here instead. The plague first reached San Francisco in 1900. Joseph Kinyoun dealt with that initial wave, and the initial denials from the city and state. An independent out-of-state commission verified the existence of plague in 1901. Rupert Blue arrived in 1903; and thanks to his sanitation campaign, death rates went down and the city was declared plague-free two years later. And then…

SO : And then?

AM : The Great Earthquake and Fires of 1906 happened.

SO : Well, that’s always a dramatic turning point.

AM : And just when you think things couldn’t get any worse with an event known henceforth in history as The Great Earthquake and Fires , guess what else came in its aftermath?

SO : Oh, 2020 has prepared me for that: a second wave of the bubonic plague.

AM : [AM chuckles] The refugee shacks and ruins throughout San Francisco had provided the perfect nesting place for rats, and the rat population grew across the city. The first 25 new cases in 1907 emerged from seemingly every neighborhood. Among them, only one person was Chinese. Only that person lived in Chinatown. And by the time Rupert Blue returned to fight the plague again, most of the dead were white. And so what is clear now became clear then.

[music / audio break]

SO : Since antiquity, Persian physicians and Byzantine historians had actually noticed a link between the deaths of rats and the arrival of plague. Yet it was only in 1898 when a French researcher in Saigon, Paul-Louis Simond, finally demonstrated that it was fleas that carried bacteria from rat to rat and rat to human. But his findings didn’t immediately take hold -- uncontained urine and feces were still thought to be the vectors of the disease.

AM : Hence Blue’s previous effort to sanitize Chinatown -- which, in a way, helped spare the neighborhood from this second wave. This time, Blue acted on Simond’s findings. Instead of drawing up quarantine zones, he mapped out districts to send teams of ratcatchers to. They brought rats to a lab, tossed them in boiling water to kill the fleas, studied them, systematically numbering each rat they caught and labeling where they caught it.

SO : Blue again embraced outreach, enlisting the whole city’s residents to help. His team distributed a primer called “How to Catch Rats.” He participated in meetings with the public as well as physicians, and -- can you believe this? -- eventually, a Citizen’s Health Committee offered rewards for every male and female rat that could be captured and killed.

AM : 25 cents for every male and 50 cents for every female! Newspapers, which, well, had a spotty record spreading information about the plague, got in on the act by publishing how-tos on keeping the home rat-free.

SO : And, in the end, this all worked. In 1909, Rupert Blue was honored at the Fairmont Hotel for eradicating the plague from San Francisco.

AM : It wasn’t a clean-cut happy ending. Even as San Francisco was rid of rats, fleas that had made their way onto squirrels had begun infecting people in the East Bay and beyond. One difference was, back then these areas then were nowhere near as densely populated and made up mostly of untouched land.

SO : There would also be further outbreaks of the bubonic plague in the U.S., particularly New Orleans in 1913 and Los Angeles from 1924 to 1925. But San Francisco would not face a similar epidemic again.

AM : I sure hope we keep up that record! [SO laughs]

[music / audio break]

AM : Alright. We have been talking a lot about Chinatown. Over the course of this series, we’ve mentioned how it formed around Portsmouth Square as a point of arrival for early gold-seekers; a hub of mining support businesses; and a bachelor society that added to the brothels on the Barbary Coast. But there’s always another lens for understanding why Chinatown is where it is, why it was the way it was at a particular time period, how it came to be.

SO : During this time, the Chinese were literally boxed into Chinatown because officials wanted them to stay there.

AM : And for this episode, we had a chance to speak with Dr. Charlotte Brooks. In addition to being a professor at the City University of New York, she is a recognized scholar of race, immigration, and urban history. Charlotte is also on the committee for the History & Perspectives journal published by the Chinese Historical Society of America, whose museum is right here in Chinatown.

SO : She wrote the book Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California . She begins it by saying that San Francisco’s Chinatown was the first racially segregated neighborhood in the United States. Here are excerpts from our interview, where we asked her why she said that.

CB : You know, that segregation has been most acutely felt by Black Americans. And there was a long-time argument that segregated neighborhoods somehow emerged naturally and historians have really dismantled that and shown that they were a product of policy. They were product of landlords and homeowners, but, you know, white supremacy helped shape local and then federal policy. You know, I grew up in California, California looked very different racially, ethnically than a lot of other parts of the country. That was, you know, that was really where I started with the book, um, to sort of talk about segregation as something that developed differently , reflected a different kind of racial geography depending on, you know, the part of the country. The Chinese, of course, you know they come to San Francisco in the Gold Rush era and they are living in many parts of the city initially. And then these businesses that are clustering around Portsmouth square, and they get pushed in and pushed in by violence. Unlike a lot of the cities to which black Americans go in the 20th century, San Francisco is really pretty early in its development. It's starting to grow and spread. And so as the city becomes also sort of more of a family city and less of a frontier city, the white residents move in and move out of this area, which is billed as part of the city.

And it is astounding that the Chinese and Chinese American population was able--given the kind of racial hatred and the violence they faced--that they were able to hang on so long. And there were a lot of attempts by the local government to evict them. There were ordinances in one of California's constitutions. The constitution has a sec, a section titled Chinese and basically bars them from living in cities, but it was unenforceable, unconstitutional based on the American constitution. And Chinese American leaders, the Chinese merchants and the Chinese Six Companies were kind of at the forefront of fighting these different local attempts to get rid of the Chinese. And a number of the organizations that made up the Six Companies eventually owned some property. So they had some property rights, but yeah, there's this ongoing attempt to remove the Chinese.

AM : The views and measures taken towards this community during the first bubonic plague outbreak could be taken as one more attempt.

SO : Just take the stance of the then-mayor, James Phelan, who had justified the quarantine to guard against, quote, the “Asiatic infection.” Phelan further went on to say, quote, “I desire to say that [the Chinese] are fortunate, with the unclean bits of their coolies and their filthy hovels, to be permitted to remain within the corporate limits of any American city.”

AM : Here’s Charlotte again:

CB : There's a special kind of racial odium attached to the Chinese, um, that reflects this need to find a scapegoat for these issues and problems that you see in ports around the world.

What I mean is that Chinatown becomes this center of prostitution and it's not. Some of it is Chinese prostitution, but a lot of it is not involving Chinese women. It's that, as San Francisco grows into a metropolis and a more of a family community, prostitution remains, but it's pushed into areas that are considered undesirable and reflecting of immorality. And so Chinatown becomes synonymous with it and other sort of vice industries, because that's where essentially law enforcement pushes those industries. Right? You know, if you, if you look at the bubonic plague, and then you look at the epidemic of bubonic plague that broke out after the earthquake in 1907 , most of the people affected by that are white in San Francisco. There was no racialization of it. It just worked so well in 1900.

SO : Given all this, I think we can definitely say race, ethnicity, and disease are intertwined -- just not in the ways people like James Phelan or Joseph Kinyoun perceived it.

AM : And while we talked briefly about how encampments following the great fire and earthquake also provided shelter for rats and fleas, talking with Charlotte helped us see how other diseases--like racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy--were spread or fed by inequality in housing.

CB : If you shove people into a tiny area that dates really to the Gold Rush period, right? This is a neighborhood by 1900 that has been around, old wooden buildings, um, you don't have concrete basements, uh , the drainage isn't good. Uh , it's owned by absentee landlords. Most of them white, most of them who make a lot of money off of these tenants who have nowhere else to live. You're going to get poor living conditions. You see that across the country in urban areas. Other historians have talked a little bit about this as well, that political corruption and police corruption enables poor conditions to flourish. That police took payoffs and Board of Health agents took payoffs not to pay attention to what was happening in Chinatown. And I mean, we know that the Chinese merchants in Chinatown ended up helping to finance security for the district through a kind of a private security force by the 1910s. So Chinatown is not getting public services. And white landlords make a lot of money, um, keeping up these conditions and not responding to their tenants' dissatisfaction. There's is sort of a whole, is the assumption that they don't want good conditions. They don't need good conditions. There's no political benefit to giving them good conditions. And in fact, there's a political benefit to ignoring the conditions under which they live.

SO : The plague outbreak of the early 1900s was not the first public health crisis to showcase how racial and socioeconomic inequalities impact people’s lives and health. Nor would it be the last. Just a few short years later, the influenza epidemic would show it again.

AM: As we’ve talked about in previous episodes, the stereotyping of the Chinese and Chinatown as a people and a place of vice and disease began well before the bubonic plague was discovered on San Francisco’s shores. In the following excerpts, Charlotte talks to us about how useful this scapegoating was to the protection of white supremacy and racist ideals. And also how the community of Chinatown worked against it with the only legal recourse they had available to them--the court system.

CB: I'm writing another book about this Chinese American family and the father of this family arriving in San Francisco in the 1880s in the midst of a smallpox epidemic, um, which was a problem in ports around the world. The coverage in the press of the, of the ship that this man was on--in which I think three or four people had smallpox--was, um, something like “Smallpox Consignment Arrives From Asia.” As if these, these Chinese immigrants were not even human beings, they're just a disease, right? They're just, they just represent the smallpox. That’s the exact kind of language, um, of pestilence and disease that is attached to the Chinese in the 1870s, 1880s. Um, and actually, you know, reflects that a lot of the, um, prevalent ideas about China itself at that time, you know, a lot of Western traders and missionaries--missionaries in particular, who did not actually do very well in terms of trying to proselytize among the Chinese, they did not get many converts. They have to justify why they're in China. So they portrayed the Chinese as depraved and diseased. And you see all this stew of ideas together with this, um, you know, deep-seated white supremacy and with the residential segregation that had already taken hold. It just, it sort of layers one on top of the other, these different ideas.

Under California's first state constitution in 1850, free Blacks and Native Americans are basically given this distinct status where they can't testify against whites in a court. They can't vote. They're basically non-citizens. Chinese aren't named, but that status is extended to them in this, in this 1854 court case. However, the 1868 14th amendment is really crucial, because it guarantees equal protection under the law, right? So it wipes away those kinds of prohibitions.

Chinese can testify against whites in a court after that point. Not that they're going to be believed for example, but you know, they do have those rights. And in fact, one of the things that happens is that, um, the Chinese Six Companies and other Chinese in San Francisco, they use the courts to challenge unfair immigration laws. They use them. You know there are all these writs of habeas corpus to allow people to land after the 1882 Exclusion Act. So the reason they've relied so heavily on the courts is that, beginning in the 1870s and encoded in the 1882 exclusion law was the fact that Chinese could not become naturalized American citizens. So they couldn't follow the route that other immigrants followed when they were harassed and attacked. They could not become American citizens, because of their race. They could not vote, right? So the court was really what they have.

And over time Congress and the federal courts make it really difficult for the Chinese to challenge immigration law, right. That keeps them out. It really makes it difficult for people trying to land by the turn of the century and after to challenge immigration officials' decisions. Those are final. But the Chinese are able to challenge other things that are outside of immigration and the local government, San Francisco, does all these things like you mentioned the cutting off of the queue that would make it really impossible for this man to return to China and not face political persecution. Um, there are the square cubic footage ordinances. Under some of these ordinances, you can't use the shoulder poles to carry bundles--something only the Chinese did. You can't operate a laundry. in a wooden building, it's aimed specifically at the Chinese. And the, you know, the merchants, in particular, challenge all these ordinances, which are found to violate the 14th amendment. So we think about, you know, those California laws, but in fact, the Constitution and the 14th amendment do prove incredibly valuable.

[music break]

SO: Talking with Charlotte was enlightening, to say the least. There’s a big part of me that always wants to find the line--follow the timeline. But -- now it’s my turn with maritime metaphors [AM: Hm]-- I’m learning if you focus on journeys from one port to another, if you only focus on those ports, you miss the waves and storms and trials that turn a sailor into a seafarer.

AM : I get that. When we brought up the transformation we saw of Chinese immigration from primarily sojourners to largely settlers, Charlotte helped us see that it wasn’t a singular, linear journey that brought about this population change. She reiterated how important understanding the complications is to telling the facts and not getting swept up in a pretty fiction.

CB : I think it is partly Chinese over time going from being sojourners to settlers. But I think also it's different groups of people and how they imagine their lives in America: whether they're going to be there permanently, whether they're going to go back and forth or leave.

I think what you see especially is after the turn of the century, the formation of a second generation, that desperately want to stay in the United States, but don't really see their future as being one of many opportunities in the United States. At the same time, this is a time in China where you have this emergence of a new kind of, um...This, uh, attempt to sort of try to modernize--however we define that--to, to challenge the, um, American policies.

I think it's, it's all these different currents. You have, you know, growing number of families, growing number of Chinese Americans born on U.S. soil, who are citizens. Growing number of women in these merchant families, uh, merchants' wives, essentially, who are, you know, they they've come from a China that's changing. And also, people investing in property through Chinese-owned corporations, buying property. This is before that becomes illegal in 1913 for so-called “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” So it's a really complicated, I think, phenomenon.

AM : We’ve said it before and it’s fairly obvious that the bulk of our research has been centered around Chinatown. And through the lens of that neighborhood, we’ve been able to study so many movements and events in San Francisco’s early history.

SO : Yet I wouldn’t limit the relevance of what we’ve been talking about in this episode to San Francisco. Walter Wyman, the third Surgeon General of the United States and both Kinyoun and Blue’s boss, said,

“All the world has become one neighborhood, as far as relates to distances. In no manner has this been better shown than in the warfare against contagion…[which is] bringing the nations together as one family in the struggle against these foes of mankind.”

AM : Do you think we were successful against these foes of humankind?

SO : Well, that depends on how you calculate success. We have a cure for the plague now.

AM : Thanks, science! [SO laughs] The bubonic plague outbreaks certainly made the city and its people think critically about not only disease mitigation, but prevention. The Board of Health was expanded into what is today the Department of Public Health, which strives not only to slow the spread of contagious disease, but prevent large-scale outbreaks and promote physical, mental, and emotional health.

SO : And before the outbreaks, San Francisco had never run a major sanitation campaign. This reflects the relative newness of the idea of sanitation and hygiene -- It was only in the mid to late 1800s when American public health officials began pushing for regular bathing, clean sources of water, and toilets. Remember, uncontained urine and feces were thought to be the cause of plague.

AM : That’s right. Does this mean you’ve made your peace with the question “Where’s the bathroom”?

SO : I’m just glad I can tell you where ours is. [AM laughs]

[outro music]

AM : Over the past few episodes, we’ve focused on the hurdles and hardships that Chinese people faced once they arrived in San Francisco. Plagues, fires, earthquakes, and a legal system bent on excluding them. Faced with even one of those, I don’t know if I’d have it in me to stay.

SO : I get that. But somewhere between the first journeys to Gold Mountain in 1849 to rebuilding their community after the earthquake and fires of 1906, Chinese Americans made a permanent home here. To put it very simply, some sojourners did become settlers. Second generations grew up knowing America as their first country. And I think, when you call a place your home, you make the decision to put in the effort, the fight to make it better.

AM : That fight has continued for generations more -- but, for now, I think we’re wrapping up our episodes that focus on the early Chinese American experience in San Francisco. Essential as it is to Asian American history, it is only one part of it, and it’s time we start exploring more stories.

SO : We definitely will… starting next episode.

AM : Looking forward to it. Till then, as a good park ranger, I ask you: please keep away from the wildlife. Don’t go near the rats.

SO : Or the squirrels! They’re still out there.

[The End]

Episode music: “Pavement Hack”, “Tyrano Theme” and “Stakes and Things” by Blue Dot Sessions. Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC.

At the turn of the 20th century, San Francisco faced a plague that devastated Europe in centuries past. As sickness began spreading through Chinatown, its most densely populated neighborhood, the city had to confront the deadliness of this disease and its own societal ills.

Daughters of Joy

Open Transcript


SO: Before we start today’s episode, we wanted to touch base. AM: We started this podcast to study histories and perspectives we don't hear about as much, especially from immigrants and people of color who came to San Francisco by way of the Pacific Ocean. SO: And we hoped by giving these perspectives more time in the light, we’d not only spark curiosity and discussion, but normalize questioning the stories we’ve always heard, which is, of course, uncomfortable. AM: And important for growing. SO: Definitely. AM: We want to treat these stories with the care and attention they deserve, but we know we won’t always get it right, or complete. SO: Oooh, that hurts this know-it-all to admit. AM: [Laughs] I think you mean “thorough and conscientious researcher”...and it’s going to be okay. SO: Thanks. AM: You’re welcome. SO: In treating these stories and perspectives with care, we hope we create a space where the discomfort is a little easier to cope with because it’s shared. AM: That being said, we do not want to trigger trauma responses, especially without warning. SO: And while we welcome listeners of all ages, some topics--like the ones we discuss in today’s episode--may not be appropriate for younger audiences. AM: Briefly, this episode focuses on the history of human trafficking and sexual enslavement in San Francisco. SO: Our transcript can be found on the Better Lives, Bitter Lies page on the San Francisco Maritime website. If you’d like to read it before making your decision on whether to listen and who to listen with, please feel free to do so now! AM: And now, let’s get into the episode. [Audio break] SO: Hey, Anne! AM: Hi, Sabrina! What have we got going on today? SO: Well, I was just listening to this audiobook. Want to listen with me? AM: Absolutely, I do. SO: Okay, here goes. [00:01] "A ghost story first led me to the edge of Chinatown. One crisp morning, I dodged the crowds in Union Square and walked past a pair of stone lions up a hill. I had an address--920 Sacramento Street--and a description. I was looking for a five-story structure built with misshapen red bricks--some salvaged from the earthquake and firestorms that razed much of the city in 1906. “Passing a church and a YMCA, I came to an old building with metal grates on its lower windows. Above the main entryway, I peered up at the century-old raised lettering that read, OCCIDENTAL BOARD PRESBYTERIAN MISSION HOUSE. “On a Plexiglas sign mounted onto the bricks at eye level, I read CAMERON HOUSE EST. 1874.” AM: That’s the opening of The White Devil’s Daughters ! The book by Julia Flynn Siler! SO: Yeah! It’s the book you told me about months ago, which, well, it’s a long story, but it really led us to working together on this podcast! AM: That’s true! The White Devil’s Daughters was a name given to the Chinese women and girls who were sheltered at the Presbyterian Mission House. We’ll certainly talk more about why the white women running the Mission Home were known as white devils. But, referring to the women and children living in the home reminds me of another moniker--the Daughters of Joy. SO: Which was a term sometimes used to refer to prostitutes who worked the waterfront, particularly an area which became known as the Barbary Coast. AM: Hey, we have a marker for that in our park! SO: Yep! We have a display in the Visitor Center too! [AM: Huh!] Now, when you recommended this book, I was intrigued because it reminded me of this old saying that a sailor has a woman in every port. [AM: Hmm] And then it got me thinking: who was that woman -- or, more precisely, who were those women? Was every single woman really waiting for a man on shore? AM: Oooh, good questions. Well, that saying could have referred to women who were treated as wives or partners by the sailors. I imagine it was quite difficult to determine the marital status of a seafarer. And you know how women were limited to stale imagery that was rarely of their own creation -- in our first episode, you said that whole part about how a writer personified the Golden Gate as a bridge. I mean, bride. SO: The Golden Gate Bride? AM: [chuckles] Okay… back to the book. SO: Okay. The book provides a doorway, if you will, to the histories we’ll be talking about today. But short of just reading the back-cover blurb, I don’t know how my introducing it can do it justice. AM: Then it’s a good thing we interviewed the author herself, Julia Flynn Siler. Julia is a New York Times best-selling author and a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek . She was also born in the Bay Area and is based here. Let’s hear what she had to say: Julia Flynn Siler: The White Devil's Daughters is about a very small group of women who in the 1870s saw a great social injustice taking place. And that was the forced prostitution of Asian girls and women. This was a time of enormous prejudice against Asians in California and this small group, mostly women, really rejected that and acted against the tide of anti-Asian sentiment and decided to try to do something to help the women who had been trafficked. And so they set up a safe house on the edge of Chinatown. And I quickly realized that I could tell the history of the city through this one institution, through this one building and the people who worked there and passed through its doors all those decades, which covered everything from the Sandlot Riots against the Chinese in the 1870s through the earthquake and firestorms that destroyed Chinatown in 1906 through the great flu pandemic of 1918 to 1919, um, into the roaring twenties and then into the Great Depression of the 1930s. And I was looking for an inspiring story, as well. I was looking for a story about people changing their lives and finding freedom. [audio break] SO: That was a lot to unpack. AM: So let’s start unpacking. SO: I guess we’ll begin, as noted, in the 1870s. Or thereabouts. AM: How about a little bit before then? To recap: In our second episode, we talked about why the Chinese began to come to San Francisco -- first, for Gold Mountain from 1849 through the 1850s, then, for various other jobs that helped develop California and the West, like the Transcontinental Railroad. SO: We talked about settlers--as well as sojourners--who stayed a while before returning to China. Most of the time, both the sojourners and settlers were men. This was partly due to social conventions -- men were the ones who sought work, wherever that might be. The point of sojourning was to support families back home. If they had families -- wives and children – to begin with. AM: And speaking of social convention, we have and we’ll likely continue to use binary gender language when discussing historical gender roles. This is due to the gender-binary nature of the census records and society in the United States at the time. We understand that many of the people identified as male or female in the census records may not identify as such today. SO: Non-binary identities are unique and valid then and through today, even if the historical record doesn't reflect their presence. AM: Absolutely. Back to it? SO: Back to it. So, our last episode went into some of the effects of such long-distance and, often, long-term separations of Gold Mountain men from their wives. In this episode, we will be looking at another effect. AM: Both sojourners and settlers contributed to the growing population of San Francisco. According to one collection of census records, between 1860 and 1870, the population of Chinese living here went from 3,130 to 11,728. [SO: Mmm] The numbers you have over there are just as interesting. SO: Mmhmm. According to the book Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco, in 1850, there were 12 men to every woman in the state. But, among the Chinese, the ratio was 39 to 1. Another set of statistics says that, in 1850, only 7 of the 4,025 recorded Chinese residents of San Francisco were women. AM: Oh, wow. But over the next few decades, the numbers would balance out, right? SO: Yeah, and by 1900, the ratio among the Chinese population in San Francisco had decreased as well, but it was still 12 men to every 1 woman. AM: Where were the women? Which is never a bad question to start research with. SO: Oh, I agree. [AM chuckles] But in this scenario, the answer is they were mostly back in China. Because, again, traditionally, the woman’s role was to stay in the domestic sphere. But staying back was also cheaper. Given the journey and the destination, it was also thought safer. AM: And so, early Chinese communities became mostly male quote-unquote bachelor societies. This was true not only in San Francisco, but up and down the West Coast. Now these bachelor societies made two things possible. First was a mobile workforce that could go wherever labor was needed [SO: MH] -- railroads, farms, canneries, you name it. Second was a demand for women -- whether for companionship, love, or sex. And, well, that gave rise to a different kind of workforce. SO: Which, in turn, can explain this other interesting statistic: according to the 1870 census, 1,565 Chinese prostitutes worked in San Francisco. They constituted 61 percent of the entire Chinese female population. AM: Wow. Well, we’re certainly going to go more into the hows and whys behind this. But before that, let’s talk again about--drumroll please--[SO chuckles] laws. Specifically, the laws which were passed in response to that bachelor society and, ironically, maintained it. [audio break] SO: Beyond transactional experiences at brothels and the like, men in these bachelor societies also looked outside of their own ethnic communities for relationships. AM: The bigotry and racism with which these relationships were treated by society led to the passing of anti-miscegenation laws, or laws which banned the intermarriage or intermingling of races. SO: Beginning in 1850, California prohibited marriages between whites and Blacks. By 1869, there were laws in five Western states that banned marriage between whites and Chinese, “Asiatic” or “Mongolian” people. The terms varied per law. It seems the term “Mongolian” was widely considered synonymous with “Chinese,” though a similar term was also used as a catch-all for anyone who essentially wasn’t white or Black. AM: The first law banning marriages between Chinese people and white people was passed in Nevada in 1861. But it was only in 1880 -- two years before the Chinese Exclusion Act – that California anti-miscegenation laws expanded to forbid marriage licenses between whites and people defined as, quote-unquote, Mongolian. SO: Now, in the book, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America, author Peggy Pascoe points out that popular images and rhetoric sexualized Chinese men as a threat to white womanhood. Black men were painted as, quote, direct sexual dangers in American popular media; Chinese men were linked to, quote, fraudulent marriages, rampant prostitution, and commercial vice, unquote. Either way, interracial relationships were portrayed as inseparable from illicit sex and/or vice. AM: That’s awful. And portraying Chinese men in this way also played into the depiction of Chinese women as prostitutes. SO: Which gives me a headache and brings us to the Page Act of 1875. AM: The Page Act explicitly forbade the, quote, importation into the United States of women for the purpose of prostitution, end quote. It also said that port officials would determine whether the “immigration of any subject of China, Japan, or any Oriental country… is free and voluntary.” If it was determined that the immigrant, quote, has entered into a contract or agreement for a term of service within the United States for lewd and immoral purposes, end-quote, they would not be allowed in. There would also be fines and imprisonment for people knowingly and willfully behind such contracts and importation. SO: And such was the climate around the law, that, according to the book Unbound Feet: quote, immigration officials apparently operated on the premise that every Chinese woman was seeking admission on false pretenses and that each was a potential prostitute until proven otherwise. AM: Wow, those are some assumptions. Let’s not forget that prostitution was only made a criminal act in California in 1872. SO: That’s true. And it’s certainly worth noting that the Page Act didn’t name any particular ethnicity or race in its exclusion, but it was used almost exclusively to prohibit immigration of Asian women. It was seldom enforced with white female immigrants who may have also been coming for, quote-unquote, lewd and immoral purposes. AM: And it paints a picture that all these Chinese women who were, quote-unquote, potential prostitutes coming to America under false pretenses were doing so of their own volition, which we know isn’t the case. But we’ll talk more about that in a minute. You look like you’re dying to tell me something... SO: Yes. Can I please tell you now about the first-known Chinese woman to immigrate to California? AM: Is this one of your research rabbit holes? SO: ...yes. AM: Just call me Alice. SO: See my Cheshire grin? AM: I do! [SO and AM chuckle] SO: So, her name was Maria Seise. She wasn’t a prostitute, and, as far as I’ve read, she’s an example of the few nineteenth-century women who did come here of their own volition. And--get this--she predates the Gold Mountain men. In fact, she beat all of the 49ers to San Francisco. AM: Whoa! When did she arrive? SO: 1848! And she’s also said to be the first-ever Chinese woman in San Francisco. AM: And why did she come here? SO: For work. She came over with her employers -- Maria was one of three Chinese servants in Charles Gillespie’s household. Charles was a trader and, perhaps not incidentally, the first American to reside in Hong Kong after China ceded Hong Kong to Great Britain -- AM: -- because of the Treaty of Nanjing that ended the Opium War! SO: Mmhmm. AM: Wow, this rabbit hole has twists! But let’s get back to Maria Seise! SO: Happily. So, we don’t know her birth name, but Maria was from Canton. At a young age, she ran away to avoid being sold by her parents -- which, as we’ll learn, was a fairly common practice among poor families. She went to Macau, a region in China controlled by Portugal, and adopted Portuguese customs and the Catholic faith. Then, she married a Portuguese sailor, who left for sea and never returned. AM: Ooh, Maria was a woman waiting at port? SO: Maybe? But not for long. To support herself, Maria Seise sought work as a domestic helper. In 1837, she even traveled with an American employer to Hawaii. Eventually, she came to work for the Gillespies in Hong Kong. It’s said she was actually more of a companion to Sarah, Charles’s wife, and enjoyed her fullest confidence. Later, in San Francisco, they were even confirmed in the Episcopalian faith together. Church records say Maria, quote, knelt at Sarah’s side to receive the rite at the same time. AM: So, you could say Maria Seise was self-supporting and well-traveled [SO: Mmhmm] which is not something you could have generally said then about women of any race or social class. In that sense, she already sounds extraordinary. And that’s before she “became” the first Chinese woman in California! SO: I’ll say! Oh, and by the way, just to connect one more detail in Maria’s story to previous episodes -- soon after the Gillespie household arrived in San Francisco, the male Chinese servants left their jobs for the gold fields. AM: Okay, that last part does not surprise me. Pretty much all male laborers were heading for the gold fields. SO: That’s true. But, yeah, as you were saying, Maria Seise was certainly surprising then. [AM: Mhm] And her story is surprising now. Or maybe not. Or shouldn’t be. AM: What do you mean? SO: Sometimes, I don’t know if learning something new about the past is surprising just because it’s hard to remember that there can be exceptions to the rule. Maria certainly seems to have been one. Who knows how many more exceptions to the rule there were? AM: Hey, we’ll never find them if we don’t look, right? Maybe we should also ask why those rules were there in the first place? [SO: Mhm] And exceptions are a great lens to use in reconsidering the effectiveness or necessity of any rule! The stories of the White Devil’s Daughters prove that. [audio break] AM: So we’ve talked a little about prostitution and the Chinese women who were suspected of immigrating for, quote-unquote, lewd and immoral purposes, but I think we need to clarify a few things. SO: First, this episode is not a discussion of the morality of prostitution. We are neither condemning nor condoning sex work that is done with the consent of all involved parties. AM: Prostitution is largely illegal in the United States today as a result of state and some federal laws. SO: At the same time, there are places within the US, as well as countries around the world, where prostitution is a legal occupation. If you’re interested in learning more, start researching and find people with whom you can discuss it! AM: Yes! What this episode does focus on is trafficking and enslavement, both of which are unambiguously wrong. The mostly women and children we’re talking about were--more often than not--forced into sex work or prohibited from leaving it. SO: Let’s let Julia Flynn Siler tell us more. JFS: In the 19th century, there were a series of laws passed to restrict Chinese and Asian women from coming to the United States. And so increasingly, to meet the demand for women, Asian girls and women were smuggled into the country and they were often smuggled by very sophisticated human trafficking rings operating both between China and the western United States. I would say that both white men and Chinese men frequented the brothels in Chinatown. Both groups were involved in the trafficking of Asian women. These criminal tongs or criminal, uh, gang members had very sophisticated ways of luring the girls and young women to the United States with promises of good jobs or with promises of marriage or the ability to help their families back in China. China during the 19th century was undergoing, uh, extreme civil strife and poverty. And many, many young girls felt it was their obligations to their families to take these opportunities. But when they got to the United States, they quickly realized that they had been tricked and that they were headed for forced prostitution. “Daughters of joy” were a description of prostitutes. And it was a somewhat ironic name for a life for many girls and young women that was extremely brutal and often very short. Perhaps they were daughters of joy for the men who were purchasing them. But certainly not in their own lives. They would arrive at the Embarcadero, for example, in San Francisco, the port area, um, often groups of 200, 300 young women and girls at a time. They'd be rounded up, put onto wagons, and carried directly up to the brothels in Chinatown and into the area adjacent to Chinatown in San Francisco, known as the Barbary Coast. There, they might work in what was known as a crib. And the crib was an extremely small area often divided from others by sheets. The girls would end up prostituting themselves to 10, 14, 16 men a night. And this could go on for years until they succumb to disease, or abuse, or other kind of calamities that overcame them. SO: Life for so many of these so-called daughters of joy was brutal, disheartening and far, far too short. But they weren’t completely alone. They weren’t without their allies when fighting for a freedom which should have always been theirs. AM: Let’s learn a little more about these allies with Julia. As she noted earlier, there was a small group of women who saw this injustice taking place. They decided to help by setting up safehouses -- one of which was the Presbyterian Mission House at 920 Sacramento Street. Here’s Julia again: JFS: They ran this home for almost 70 years. It opened in 1874 and it ran as a safe house until the 1930s. Many of the women who ended up there as residents were either forced into prostitution, or trafficked, or in some other way, were very vulnerable and needed a place to go that was safe. As time passed, the home became kind of an early, um, social services venture. So it was one of the places that new immigrants could go to get help when they first arrived in San Francisco. I write about the women who ran the home as well as the residents of the home and talk about them as pioneers in what we now would call the fight against human trafficking. AM: The first superintendent of the Mission Home was a woman named Margaret Culbertson. She dedicated over twenty years of her life to the fight against human trafficking. In doing so, she became known as a white devil of Chinatown. Brothel keepers and others running slave and trafficking rings told girls that the Mission Home was a horrible place -- that there was, quote, a white devil who drank the blood of captive girls to keep up her energy, end-quote. SO: The woman who became superintendent after Culbertson was also called the white devil of Chinatown. But the girls who lived with her came to call her Lo Mo, or “beloved mother.” Her name was Donaldina Cameron. She was a Scottish American who immigrated to California from New Zealand as a child. The youngest in a large family, Donaldina--or, Dolly, as she was called--lost her mother within a few years of arriving in the United States. At 25 years old, she came to the Mission Home as a sewing teacher. A few years later, she succeeded Culbertson as its superintendent. AM: And today, the Mission Home is named the Cameron House in honor of her work. But there is another amazing woman… SO: Which one? There were so many. AM: There really were! But for Donaldina, I think no one was held in higher regard or trusted more completely than Tien Fuh Wu . Let’s let Julia tell us more about this inspiring woman. JFS: Tien Fuh Wu, she actually arrived at the Mission Home before Donaldina Cameron became the face of the Home for decades. Tien was there even longer than she was. And Tien came from a family in China. And her father had gotten himself into very bad financial trouble through his gambling debts. So he ended up selling her and Tien, as a very young girl, ended up on a steamer from China to San Francisco with false papers. Uh, she passed through immigration as a paper daughter and ended up working at a brothel as a child servant known as a muy tsai, or “little daughter.” She wasn't prostituted at that point. She was too young, but she was a servant. In later years she would describe looking out the windows of the brothel and what it was like to be in Chinatown in that situation. Um, somehow from the brothel, she was sold to someone else, a woman who treated her very badly and burned her, and her condition, her abuse came to the attention of authorities. She was brought in the 1890s in the arms of a policeman to the Presbyterian Mission Home. She really spent much of her childhood in the Mission Home, growing up there and playing with the other girls. And she was an extremely bright young woman. The staffers at the Mission Home were able to find her a sponsor who was willing to pay for her education. Tien Fuh Wu became one of the very few residents of the Home to not only go to an excellent boarding school for high school in Philadelphia, but then she went to a bible college in, um, Canada, and this was also supported by her sponsor. So once she finished college, she wanted to go back to China to try to find her family. And she did go back and she was unable to find them. There was so much civil strife and so much passed during those years that she could not find her beloved mother or grandmother. And so she thought to herself what she should do next. She realized that the Mission Home really had become her family. And so she was offered a job as a staffer at the Home and began a long career working there. She worked very closely with Donaldina Cameron. She and Tien became longtime colleagues and very, very close friends as well. Tien would often do the translations with immigration officials and court officials. She was a very good housekeeper and a pretty tough taskmistress as well. She kept a list of household chores that residents called her Book of Lamentations, [SO & AM laugh] which always made me laugh. Donaldina Cameron intrinsically trusted Tien and, in fact, put her forward to become her successor as superintendent of the home in the 1930s. Tien passed on that opportunity.

But she did end up going to live in a little cottage beside Donaldina Cameron's cottage in Palo Alto, and they passed their laterly years together. And Tien was there when Donaldina passed away at the age of 99 in 1968. One of the most touching things that I did as part of my research was to go to Los Angeles and visit a graveyard. And there, sure enough, in the Cameron family plot, was Tien Fuh Wu's marker, very close to Donaldina Cameron's marker. And that, to me, was a, uh, symbol of, of how close they were and how much respect they had for each other. [Audio break] AM: Can I confess something? SO: Um, I mean, you know we’re recording, right? AM: [laughs] Haha, I do. The confession is, I’ve gone down my own rabbit hole. SO: Oh, White Rabbit! It’s so nice to see you! AM: Hehe, I really hope that this isn’t a path to Wonderland, but Julia did encourage me to figure out where the term “yellow journalism” came from. SO: The term for reporting that plays up sensationalism and scandal? AM: Yes! So I originally thought, given the use of “yellow” to propagate negative stereotypes of Asian people, that the term “yellow journalism” originated around this same racist practice. SO: And it doesn’t? AM: You know, I don’t think we can ever be totally sure. But the sources I’ve read trace it back to a publishing fight over a New York World cartoon character known as the Yellow Kid. This cartoon was originally published in 1895. And, as far as I can tell, he was called the Yellow Kid because of the color of his nightshirt, not his skin. SO: But 1895? That would have been during the time of the Chinese exclusion acts. AM: Very true. Societal norms would have absolutely played into this. You know who also played a role? William Randolph Hearst. SO: Oh, another family name from the Gold Rush! Has he been in every episode so far? AM: It’s very possible! He hired the Yellow Kid cartoonist away from Joseph Pulitzer and Pulitzer was, unsurprisingly, displeased. They competed viciously for years to steal each other’s readership, using sensationalistic reporting and flashy headlines over fact-driven scholarship. SO: Right. I remember Hearst was even quoted as saying, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll provide the war!” Anyway, Julia helped us connect the dots between yellow journalism and the Cameron House. Let’s listen to a bit more of the interview. AM: One of the things I enjoyed most about your work is the comparing and contrasting of Chinese-language newspapers with the English-language newspapers, especially those run by Mr. Hearst. JFS: Yes. Yes. It was so eye-opening to learn more about the Chinese press. To my delight as a storyteller, it turned out that one of the editors of a very important new Chinese-language newspaper in Chinatown was closely associated with the home for many, many years.

His name was Ng Poon Chew. He was a Presbyterian clergyman who realized that he could probably be more effective in advocating for civil rights for the Chinese people in San Francisco as a journalist so he started his newspaper. He ended up marrying a woman who had been a resident at the home, and they had a number of children, and they were big supporters for many, many years of the home and of the fight against sex trafficking.

Ng Poon Chew was an advocate for women's rights. He was an advocate for Chinese civil rights. He paid very close attention to the waves of restrictions and laws that were being passed against the Chinese starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. And that was continued in various forms through much of his time when he was an editor. Whereas the Hearst newspapers were, for the most part, anti-Chinese. The term “yellow journalism” certainly applied to the Hearst newspaper chain at that point. It was inflammatory. It was racist. It was very much on the side of seeing the Chinese in San Francisco as a threat. AM: I recall Ng Poon Chew's speech in which he put forth that the most yellow journalism was practiced by white newspapers. [JFS: Mhm] and that was such powerful rhetoric. JFS: It was. And he was so witty. He was known as the Chinese Mark Twain. [SO: Mhm] So I think he used that term when he had a very big speech in New York and it went over very well. SO: So… all that said… can I read from an old newspaper again? AM: Um... SO: What?!? We are talking about old newspapers! I have to read from an old newspaper! AM: Well... SO: What!?!?! AM: You know I’m just teasing you. Please share with me! SO: Are you? AM: I don’t know actually. [laughs] SO: Um, I will read it anyway, because I cannot be stopped. [AM laughs out loud] So, this article is from the San Francisco Call -- one of the papers that William Randolph Hearst would own, but not at the time of this writing in 1897. It reports the death of Margaret Culbertson, the first superintendent of the Presbyterian Mission House. The main title is “She Gave Her Life to God.” Here are a few lines: “Miss Culbertson died a martyr to the cause which had absorbed the labors of her lifetime...Brutality begets brutality, and some of the girls brought into the mission from the dens of Chinatown behave more like wild beasts than human beings...The gentle matron of the Presbyterian Home never knew fear, and in time was always able to subdue the most ferocious of the kicking, howling slave girls. One day, however, about five years ago, an especially troublesome slave girl was rescued. Miss Culbertson on approaching her received a kick which caused an internal injury from which she never recovered. The cause of her illness was a tender subject...she never liked even her intimate friends to think that one of her girls, who were so devoted to her as a rule, could have been the cause of the intense suffering which she has endured so frequently and so heroically.” [audio break] AM: What were we just saying about sensationalistic reporting? SO: Uh, it makes me wonder how Ng Poon Chew’s newspaper would have written an obituary. AM: Mmm. The Chung Sai Yat Po , the Chinese-Western Daily, had not been founded yet. It ran from 1900 to 1951. But, yeah, just imagine if the city’s first Chinese-language daily newspaper could have existed earlier. SO: Yeah, and not just the city’s! It was the first of its kind to be printed outside of China. But back to that article. AM: It’s really a lens into the time it was written, isn’t it? [SO: Mhm] The language used to describe the girls -- “ferocious”, “howling”, “wild beasts” -- reinforces negative stereotypes about people of another culture and race. In contrast, there’s the emphasis on the nobility and martyrdom of the Christian white woman, who devoted her life to rescuing these girls into better lives. SO: Another piece in the San Francisco Call takes the rhetoric farther. Reiterating that Margaret Culbertson died after getting kicked five years earlier, the writer says: “It is not the individual girl, however, but the system in which she was trained that we should blame for the offense. The memory of it should furnish another keen incentive for efforts to prevent Chinese iniquities from gaining a foothold on these shores. If the Mongols are to permanently remain in the midst of our civilization they must be made to amend their ideas about woman slavery. It is no ordinary philanthropy which can devote itself self-sacrificingly to an inferior Miss Culbertson did.” AM: I am trying to say something else aside from “Wow.” SO: Right? But here’s the thing. Despite what the newspapers suggest, women and girls didn’t always need “rescuing.” According to both Unbound Feet and The White Devil’s Daughters, over the decades, they came to the Mission Home for a variety of reasons. Some prostitutes sought protection as they tried to marry suitors of their choice. Others sought temporary refuge to escape abusive marriages or arranged ones. Still others tried to gain leverage in polygynous marriages where one man has several wives. AM: And they also had various reasons for leaving the Mission Home. [SO: MH] Many moved on to new lives as they married Chinese Christians. And some -- particularly those who were assigned by court order to the home -- chose to go back to China under Christian escort. Some chose to return to their former status. And -- keeping in mind that mission homes started out as institutions for both fighting social problems and finding converts to Christianity – many girls and women did not convert. Nor did they embrace the Victorian ideals of womanhood and Christian home life that they were taught, or even pressured, to adopt. SO: Pressured to adopt? I feel like that leads us into another gray area. Or an entirely separate episode. AM: Why don’t we, for now, stay with a gray area we’ve already discussed in an episode? Because I think it’s time to talk about paper children again. [Audio break/music cue] AM: The term “paper children” refers to the Chinese men and women who assumed false identities to enter the country under exclusionary immigration laws. Last time, we talked about how many possible paper children stories there can be. Today, we’ve already heard one more through Tien Fuh Wu. Come the 1930s, two more paper children came into the limelight, as the fight against human trafficking in Chinatown won a landmark victory. SO: You’re referring to the 1935 trials, right? Those saw three women go up against the persons who enslaved them? AM: Yes. The trials were heavily publicized in the press. SO: And how! -- the newspapers called the story the “Trampled Blossoms” or “Broken Blossoms” trials. The “broken blossoms” meaning the plaintiffs, Jeung Gwai Ying, Wong So, and Quan Gow Sheung. AM: Let’s not even get into what that kind of headline suggests… Jeung Gwai Ying was this trial’s star witness; her escape to the Presbyterian Mission Home in 1933 set in motion the investigations that led them to court. Jeung had sailed to the U.S. from Hong Kong, ostensibly to reunite with her father and sister. But she, in fact, had come with false papers and a ticket provided by Wong See Duck. Wong See Duck was a wealthy merchant in San Francisco who headed a trafficking ring all along the West Coast. Remember, last episode, we talked about the Pacific Mail Steamship Company as a main travel line between California and Asia? SO: Yes. AM: In the 1920s, it became the Dollar Steamship Company. [SO: Right] Mr. and Mrs. Robert Dollar were supporters of the Mission Home. Ironically, like many women who took refuge there, Jeung Gwai Ying was smuggled into the U.S. on one of the company’s ships. She was a passenger on the S.S. President Cleveland -- previously named Golden State . SO: Jeung Gwai Ying arrived in Seattle in July 1933. There, she passed interrogation and met up with her supposed family, who, in fact, were part of the ring. They brought her to Wong See Duck in Oakland; she came to live in his household in San Francisco while he looked for a buyer for her. AM: This is how Jeung Gwai Ying described her story to officials: A lady. . . came to see my mother. She told my mother that she wanted me to come to the United States to work, and that if I would like to become a prostitute I could be wealthy within a year or so. . .There was no work in China, so I thought I would take a chance and come to get a position here. They told me that I didn’t have to become a prostitute if I didn’t want to, that I could get a job. My mother didn’t want me to come, but our family is very poor. SO: But she wasn’t able to seek another job once she reached San Francisco. Wong See Duck threatened to hurt and kill her if she refused to prostitute herself. Owned by two women who made sure she looked appealing to men in America, she commanded $25 a night -- $21 of which went to her owners. The average garment-maker in Chinatown then earned $30 a month. AM: This is what Jeung said of what happened next: I told one of my customers that I couldn’t stand that kind of life, and he told me there was a Home I could go to where they could not reach me. I waited my chance, and when I was sent out to have my hair done at 4:30 pm at a place about two houses from my apartment—I had been told that I was to be sent to the country at 5 o’clock. . .I went to the beauty parlor and told the girl to curl the ends of my hair only; then I left the beauty parlor and asked a child on the street where the Mission was. I was taken to a Mission on Washington Street and from there I was brought to Miss Cameron’s Home. SO: Donaldina Cameron and the Mission Home helped her report her story to the legal and immigration authorities; Jeung Gwai Ying did not speak any English, so Tien Fuh Wu translated for her during the months of investigation. Finally, a breakthrough came when an official, searching through hundreds of immigration photographs, spotted a photo of a man named Leong Chong Po. Jeung Gwai Ying identified him as the man who trafficked her, and Donaldina and Tien recognized him as a rumored member of criminal tongs. This man, of course, was Wong See Duck. AM: Wong See Duck himself was a paper son. He arrived in San Francisco aboard the SS Asia in 1908, and was interrogated at the Pacific Mail detention shed near Pier 40. There, he passed himself off as Leong Chong Po, or Leong Foo, whose father owned Yee Chong & Company in Chinatown. Later, it was this merchant status that enabled Wong See Duck to travel back and forth between China, and build his criminal network. SO: It took a great effort for Jeung Gwai Ying to testify against him -- considering that she had just given birth. AM: She was actually pregnant when she escaped to the Mission House. [SO: Mhm] And her baby boy was cared for by the Mission House throughout the trial. SO: Unfortunately, she didn’t do that well on the stand, and the trial ended with a hung jury. What she did do was identify another enslaved woman who she had met at Wong See Duck’s apartment, whose story was similar to hers. This woman, Wong So, became the star witness at a second “Broken Blossoms” trial. There, the jury unanimously found Wong See Duck, his wife, and two other female traffickers guilty. They were all jailed and deported. As was Wong So, because she still had come with false papers. Gwai Ying and the third plaintiff had infants, so they were allowed to remain in the US. AM: Wong See Duck, his wife, the other female traffickers, and Wong So were deported and went back to China on the SS President Lincoln and the SS President Coolidge . Again, both also ocean liners for what was originally the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. [outro music] SO: Do you feel like everything can just all connect together like a glorious network of rabbit holes? AM: [chuckles] I do! It’s like what Julia Flynn Siler said, at the very beginning-- depending on how and where you stop to look at things, any boat, any building, can quite possibly tell a hidden history of the city. I still can’t believe how much history was contained within the walls of 920 Sacramento Street. SO: I know. And we really only got a brief glimpse into all that The White Devil’s Daughters addresses. AM: That’s true. We didn’t even get to how they handled the bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco ... SO: The what?! AM: I think we have our next episode. [outro music ends] SO: Our last two episodes have featured a few stories about passengers and vessels of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, the Dollar Steamship Company, and American President Lines. For more resources on these shipping companies, visit the Maritime Research Center page on our park’s website.

Episode music: “Leadin” and “Vengeful” by Blue Dot Sessions. Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC.

Among the people who arrived in San Francisco in the late 1800s were Asian girls and women trafficked for the purpose of prostitution. Sometimes called “daughters of joy,” they were the victims of kidnapping, abuse, and a form of slave trade practiced openly on the waterfront well into the 20th century.

Paper Children

Open Transcript


[music] AM: Hi, Sabrina! SO: Hi, Anne! AM: What’s going on? SO: Well, I've been thinking about what you said in the first episode -- about how a historical event or person, like the Gold Rush or John C. Fremont, can be written about in so many ways. And when that happens, it becomes hard to tell what really happened and what just happened to fit into a tidy narrative. AM: Such a good point. SO: ...did you just compliment yourself? AM: Oh! Umm, maybe I shouldn’t drink coffee in the afternoon. But let’s get back to your point! [laughs] SO: Well...I'm wondering if the people wrapped up in those tidy narratives ever took part in their own creation. And if so, were they ever able to write their own story? AM: I think I see what you’re getting at. Especially when thinking about the mythically wide-open West. How easy would it be to disappear into a narrative--or even an identity--of your own creation? SO: If you were the one who chose to create it at all? [music fades out] AM: Well, we talked last time about the years following the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Fort which drew thousands of immigrants from China looking for better opportunities in the shadow of Gold Mountain. SO: And we know that the Gold Rush did not last forever -- just six years, in fact -- and not everyone who came was planning to get rich in the gold fields. AM: That’s right! But we failed to talk about this--not everyone who came during the Gold Rush came of their own volition. In 1849, California was still a territory. It had not been admitted to the United States as a free or a slave state, as they were then known. As we talked about previously, John Sutter was said to hold upwards of 600 Native Americans in an indentured labor system, if not formal slavery. SO: And John Sutter was not the only gold seeker benefitting from enslaved labor. Enslavers seeking gold were allowed to bring the people they held in slavery--mainly Black men and women--with them to California. Even after California was admitted as a free state in 1850, this practice was still allowed for some time as long as the enslaver did not settle in California. AM: Ah, there’s that settler-sojourner distinction again. [SO: Mhm] In fact, California’s admittance as a state had a major impact on the opportunities for freedom afforded to enslaved people. SO: Really? AM: When California applied for statehood, there were thirty states in the Union. 15 permitted slavery. 15 prohibited it. This was a balance which had been carefully maintained since Maine and Missouri applied for statehood in 1820. It was decided that for every state which petitioned to join the Union as a free state, another must enter as a slave state. We could spend at least an entire episode on the decisions and debates which went into the Missouri Compromise—as this deal is called--but I think that’s for another time. SO: Okay, I will just catalog that away on my list of worthwhile rabbit holes. AM: Is that a real list? SO: Yes, it is a real list. [AM laughs] I swear there’s a real research to-do list. AM: Oh, I believe you! [SO laughs] So California applied for statehood. And it applied as a state prohibiting slavery--no big deal, right? SO: This feels like a trick question. AM: It’s because it is. This was a very big deal to Congress. No other territory was quote-unquote “developed” enough to apply statehood and a 31st state entering the union as a free state threw off this carefully maintained balance. So they came to another compromise. SO: And this cannot be good. AM: It really wasn’t. In order for California to achieve statehood, the Senate passed the Fugitive Slave Act. [music break] AM: The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was not the first federal law to address the rights, or lack thereof, of enslaved people seeking freedom across state lines. SO: A Fugitive Slave Act was first passed in 1793. This formally decreed that owners of enslaved people and their agents had the right to search for escapees within the borders of free states. It required that the alleged owner or their agent provide evidence that the accused runaway was their property to a judge. It also imposed a $500 fine “on any person who helped harbor or conceal escapees”. AM: And it was met with criticism and defiance by people living in states prohibiting slavery. Some individuals built complex networks of safe houses to help and shelter enslaved individuals on their journey north to freedom. Some states intentionally neglected to enforce the law, even going so far as to pass “Personal Liberty Laws” which gave accused runaways the right to a jury trial. These laws also strove to protect free Black people who were often targeted for abduction by bounty hunters and sold into slavery. SO: One famous example is Solomon Northup, a freeborn Black man from New York who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., in 1841. He was held for twelve years in slavery in Louisiana before he won back his freedom in 1853. He would then go on to immortalize his abduction and enslavement in the memoir Twelve Years A Slave, which was made into a movie in 2013 . He said: “How heavily the weight of slavery pressed upon me then. I must toil day after day, endure abuse and taunts and scoffs, sleep on the hard ground, live on the coarsest fare, and not only this, but live the slave of a blood-seeking wretch, of whom I must stand henceforth in continued fear and dread. Why had I not died in my young years-before God had given me children to love and live for? What unhappiness and suffering and sorrow it would have prevented. I sighed for liberty; but the bondsman's chain was round me, and could not be shaken off. I could only gaze wistfully towards the North and think of the thousands of miles that stretched between me and the soil of freedom, over which a black freeman may not pass.” AM: Wow. To think, one day your whole life could be erased, and a new identity forced upon you. Forced to live in a system that rewarded your captors and silenced your voice. SO: Even if you fought for freedom and found it, was there ever a moment when you could stop fearing that someone else could steal your personhood and claim you as property? AM: Not while slavery was legal in any one state...and certainly not after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. In a speech to the National Free Soil Convention in Pittsburgh in 1852, Frederick Douglass, the renowned Black orator, writer, and social reformer, addressed this law, saying, “...No where has God ordained that this beautiful land shall be cursed with bondage by enslaving men. Slavery has no rightful existence anywhere. The slaveholders not only forfeit their right to liberty, but to life itself. The earth is God's, and it ought to be covered with righteousness, and not slavery. We expect this great National Convention to lay down some such principle as this. What we want is not a temporary organization, for a temporary want, but a firm, fixed, immovable, liberty party. Had the old liberty party continued true to its principles, we never should have seen such a hell born enactment as the Fugitive Slave Law.” SO: I think we could easily and deservedly spend every episode on this subject and I’d like to come back to it when I’ve learned more. AM: I agree. SO: Right now, there is something else that Frederick Douglass said that resonates with a topic we’ve begun diving into: Chinese immigration -- which, as you know, is a topic that also raises questions about erasing and creating identities in a different way. [AM: hm] In his essay from 1881, The Color Line, Douglass examines the roots of prejudice in America. And he points this out: "Our Californian brothers, of Hibernian descent, hate the Chinaman, and kill him, and when asked why they do so, their answer is that a Chinaman is so industrious he will do all the work, and can live by wages upon which other people would starve. When the same people and others are asked why they hate the colored people, the answer is that they are indolent and wasteful, and cannot take care of themselves." [music break] SO: Today, there are around 172,000 people of Chinese descent living in San Francisco. They make up over 20% of the city’s total population and the single largest minority group accounted for in the census. About 6,000 live in a neighborhood we’ll be visiting a lot more -- that is, Chinatown. AM: Chinatown is just 24 square blocks, roughly half a mile long and a quarter mile wide. But so much history lives within it. As you mentioned last episode, San Francisco grew out of the settlement called Yerba Buena. Yerba Buena, in turn, grew around a plaza that’s now the location of Portsmouth Square -- this was where the American flag was raised for the first time in California. And remember Samuel Brannan from last episode? SO: Sure. He announced the discovery of gold to everyone in San Francisco. AM: That’s where he did it. SO: Riiight. Oh, and, hey, remember, last episode, we also talked about how San Francisco’s shoreline evolved because and after the Gold Rush? AM: You mean, do I remember there are whole ships buried beneath my feet? [SO: mhm] That a good part of the Embarcadero and downtown is landfill? [SO: mhm] Who can forget that the shoreline used to go right up to Columbus Avenue and the Transamerica Pyramid? SO: Okay, okay. You remember! AM: Mhm! SO: I guess someone was paying attention. AM: You betcha. SO: Well, that’s part of why Portsmouth Square is now the heart of Chinatown. The area was so near the water, it was the point of arrival for Chinese coming over looking for gold or jobs. In fact, instead of a residential community, Chinatown was first a “provision station” for workers going elsewhere. With Portsmouth Square still the center of the young city, many Chinese set up mining-support businesses around it -- general supply stores, laundries, restaurants, pharmacies, even a theater. The area became known as “Little Canton” and then “Chinatown” in 1853. AM: And in the next decade, the community would grow even more -- with the help of another kind of waterfront business. Between 1860 and 1874, over 112,000 Chinese immigrated to the United States, paying over $5.5 million in fare to steamship transportation companies. Transpacific steamship services began on January 1, 1867, when the Pacific Mail Steamship Company launched the Colorado, offering monthly trips. Shipping companies and labor brokers also contributed to the uptick by spreading word of the various economic opportunities available abroad. SO: So, there’s an exhibit in our park’s visitor center that goes into Pacific steamship travel. [AM: hmm] But since we can’t explore that right now, let’s play back part of our interview with Richard Everett, the former curator of exhibits at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. He goes further into the link between shipping companies and Chinese immigration. *** AM: Tell us about the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. RE: The Pacific Mail Steamship Company got its start during the Gold Rush on a government contract. It had a sweetheart deal with the government that needed to get mail to San Francisco and so they received a well-funded contract to provide transportation from the East Coast to the West…Subsequent to that, newer iron ships and so on, beginning with some of the wooden ones, went to Asia with paddlewheels. What an image you know -- paddlewheels across the Pacific. They would get over there and, pretty soon, they were carrying immigrants to San Francisco also in search of Gold Mountain and business. SO: So, why were they bringing mail all the way across the Pacific? (AM: Right? ) What am I missing here? RE: I thought of that Sabrina. There wouldn’t be much mail, would there be? But there would be mail… I mean, the bigger money to be made would have been on passengers and cargo - cargo is king (AM: Laughter ) (SO: Where have I heard that before? ) cargo was and still is king -- just kidding. There would have been a mail contract so there had to be some mail, but I think the mail contract got them established and then they branched into the Pacific, their bread-and-butter being the cargo and people. We recently discovered there were two other companies involved in the 1870s: the China Transpacific Steamship Company--and that was British-owned--and also the Occidental & Oriental Steamship Company. But in these ways, and on these shipping companies, Chinese came to California via San Francisco in great numbers. *** SO: The Pacific Mail Steamship Company’s docks, located by today’s Pier 40, thus became a landing point for arrivals from Asia. It was the precursor of the immigration station at Angel Island, which we can see from our park, just behind Alcatraz. AM: Let’s listen to Richard give some more background: RE: The Chinese Detention Shed came about as a kind of appropriation of a section of the building there on Pier 40--not today’s location of Pier 40 but about a 100 yards north of today’s Pier 40. They would land the Chinese directly off the ships that would pull up there directly into that area. The detention shed was used to detain the Chinese for medical reasons to make sure there was no spreading disease among the passengers so they would be released at some point afterwards, but the detentions in this building were known to be horribly wrong. There were many newspaper articles about it and in general this became such an embarrassing, horrible, un-American kind of detention and the conditions so deplorable and so well-publicized that Angel Island was a response to this and the growing numbers of immigrants. [music break] AM: We’ve just been given an idea of how the Chinese came over. But what kind of world were they coming into? SO: Before we talk about what kind of world they were going into, I think we should talk a little more about the world they were coming from. AM: That’s a good point! In our previous episode, we mentioned the First Opium War as a major factor in driving Chinese to seek other opportunities in America.The First Opium War was a conflict between Great Britain and China which lasted from 1839 to 1842. It formally ended on August 29, 1842, with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking or Nanjing. The terms of the treaty forced China to cede the territory of Hong Kong, establish a fair and reasonable tariff, open five treaty ports for British merchants to trade, and pay an indemnity to Great Britain. SO: It also opened China to more unequal treaties with foreign powers. The United States signed the Treaty of Wanghia with China less than a year later on July 3, 1844. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, China--under the Qing dynasty--would also enter into unequal treaties with France, Germany, Russia, and Japan. AM: The punishing terms of these treaties contributed to economic depression and unrest among the Chinese people. From 1850 to 1864, forces led by the self-proclaimed prophet, Hong Xiuquan, revolted against the Qing dynasty in what is known today as the Taiping Rebellion. SO : This religious and political upheaval was said to ravage seventeen provinces, result in the deaths of approximately 20 million people, and permanently alter the Qing dynasty – though it would remain in power until the early 1900s. AM : There’s obviously so much more to be said about the Taiping Rebellion and China’s relationship with other quote-unquote Western nations, but let’s head back to the one they traveled to by sailing east. SO: Sounds good! Let’s begin with work -- one of the reasons why immigrants come here in the first place. Now, it’s fairly well-known that San Francisco has a history of incredibly strong and effective labor movements. AM: Yeah! In November 1849, carpenters in San Francisco held the first recorded strike in California history, striking for higher wages to combat the grossly inflated prices of food and shelter in the booming city. After one week on strike, they received a dollar a day increase, which was followed by another dollar increase within the month. SO: And in 1853, California passed “the first progressive labor protective law” which limited the legal work day to 10 hours! Since the Gold Rush, labor unions have helped protect their members and shape labor and employment regulations. They fought the mentality that success in Gold Rush California could only be found through the perseverance of the individual and they offered solace and support to the workers they accepted. AM: At the same time, we know that these unions were not perfect and they were subject to the prejudices of their leaders. [SO: mhm] One notable...or should I say notorious?...leader is none other than Denis Kearney. SO: Oh, yes. Let’s talk about him. AM : Mhm, Denis Kearney was born in Ireland in 1847 and immigrated to San Francisco in 1868. He worked in hauling things by cart through the streets of San Francisco. He started a family, and in 1877, he became active in the labor movement. He was elected the secretary of a newly formed workingman’s association, which was established out of solidarity with the nation-wide railroad strike and aimed to respond to the high rate of unemployment. SO : To this day, Denis Kearney is infamous for his incendiary, provocative orations. He railed against wealthy business owners for not supporting the working white man. He also railed against Chinese immigrants for, in his eyes, stealing what little work was available. Each of his speeches was said to begin and end with the cry, “THE CHINESE MUST GO.” [music break] SO: For decades, this cry would echo in the laws which governed immigration and citizenship for Asian Americans. AM: In 1875, the Page Act was passed by Congress. This law prohibited the importation of, quote, “unfree laborers” and women brought for “immoral purposes”. It did not expressly prohibit Chinese immigrants, but given the rampant anti-Chinese sentiment at the time, it was enacted. And given that it was enforced primarily in cases involving Chinese people, we can easily connect this law with an early effort to limit the immigration of Chinese people, without jeopardizing a lucrative trade relationship with the Chinese government. SO: It wouldn’t be much longer before a law was passed which did expressly prohibit the immigration of Chinese people. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law. It provided a ten-year moratorium on Chinese skilled and unskilled labor immigration and was the first federal law to bar, to quote, “the entry of an ethnic working group on the premise that it endangered the good order of certain localities”, end quote. Non-laborers who sought entry to the U.S. had to obtain certification from the Chinese government that they were qualified to immigrate. AM: And if a Chinese person who had already entered the United States left for any reason--like to visit family in China--the law required that they obtain certifications to re-enter, which was not easy to do. SO: AND the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 also refused state AND federal courts the right to grant citizenship to Chinese resident aliens, though these same courts could still deport them. AM: But it was only designed to last 10 years. What happened in 1892? SO: Congress extended it under the legislation of the Geary Act, which was authored by California Democratic senator, Thomas Geary. The Geary Act not only extended the Chinese Exclusion Act for 10 years, it further restricted the rights of Chinese residents--requiring them to register and obtain a certificate of residence. Any Chinese resident found without a certificate or--this is going to be important later--falsifying a certificate faced, among other things, detention and deportation. AM: The Geary Act was made permanent in 1902 and it would govern Chinese immigration until December 17, 1943, when it was formally repealed. [music break] SO: So, Denis Kearney’s rallying cry was “The Chinese Must Go”, and Thomas Geary wrote the extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act… I hope the city streets Kearny and Geary aren’t named after them? Because that would be absurd. Kearny Street goes right along the edge of Chinatown, and it was once the location of Manilatown. AM: I’d wondered that too! But the names are spelled slightly differently. Kearny Street is named after either Stephen or Philip Kearny, both generals in the Mexican-American War. [SO: Okay] Geary Boulevard is named after John Geary, the city’s first mayor after California became a state. SO: Hooray, I guess? AM: I don’t know SO: Well, if I may say so, maybe it would’ve been fitting if Kearny Street was named after Denis Kearney. It’d be like cosmic comeuppance. The Chinese did not go. Their children and their children’s children’s children are still here. AM: Well, you can’t make that narrative fit this time, Sabrina. SO: Don’t you paraphrase our podcast against me! AM: Hey, like our supervisor always says -- be thoughtful about historiography! [SO laughs] Now, other streets in San Francisco are named after people whose legacies we’ve reviewed on the podcast. Fremont Street downtown is named after John C. Fremont, namer of the Golden Gate Strait and holder of an infamous military record. Sutter Street is named after John Sutter, who owned the property gold was discovered on and who enslaved indigenous peoples. Brannan Street is named after Samuel Brannan. There are even more street names we can look at again, and ask: What really lives on in the names we keep or don’t keep? SO: That’s a really good point, given the ongoing movement to rename streets and other sites that honor individuals who are not so honorable after all. That’s complicated and separate from the discussion we’re having now -- but for what it’s worth, there is one street in the city that got renamed because of its link to racist history. Phelan Avenue became Frida Kahlo Way in 2018. AM: That’s right! That was to disassociate it from James D. Phelan. He was the former mayor and state senator who supported Chinese and Japanese exclusion. He even campaigned with the slogan “Keep California White.” We haven’t talked much about him yet, but we sure will in a future episode. SO: An interesting thing in that story, though, is that the avenue wasn’t named for James D. Phelan himself. It was for his father, a tycoon also named James. AM: Really? SO: Yeah. But sponsors of the name change said it wouldn’t have been called that if the son wasn’t the mayor. [AM: mmm] His term ended in 1902; records suggest Phelan Avenue dates back to 1906. It could be older, but, as you know, the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 devastated San Francisco. City records became really hard to find. AM: And that brings us to the fathers and sons I really want to talk about. AM: You just said something about how the Chinese did not go -- that their children’s children are still here. Remember, last time, I asked you: How easy was it for Chinese families to be reunited in California? SO: Um -- I’m counting my fingers for each anti-Chinese act -- I think we’ve recounted it was made hard. AM: But you also mentioned cosmic comeuppance. [SO: mhm] The irony to all those exclusion laws is that they didn’t stop people from coming into the country. As we said, the Chinese Exclusion Act allowed only people with certain jobs to immigrate. By 1924, amendments excluded all Chinese nationals as well as citizens of other Asian nations. If you had family or opportunity here, there were only a few ways you could hope to stay for long – like citizenship. SO: Yes. Beyond what changing laws allowed, there were essentially two pathways to citizenship. Both were through birth. You should either be born in a U.S. territory, regardless of the political status or condition of your parents. This was called the law of the soil. Or, you should be born to U.S. citizens. Specifically, your father had to be a citizen. If yours was considered an illegitimate birth, your mother had to be one. This was called the right of blood. AM: And as always, there were restrictions within restrictions: For example, the law of the soil was not applied to children of enslaved people before the Civil War. The very first Naturalization Act, in 1790, restricted citizenship to, quote, any alien, being a free white person, end-quote, who had been residing in the United States for two years. But it didn’t explicitly exclude, quote, non-white persons born on American soil, end-quote, from acquiring citizenship. SO: So many legal mazes. [AM: so many] But for all these, the Chinese still found a way to make it into the United States. Using falsified papers, many claimed they were children of American-born or naturalized people of Chinese descent. And so, the so-called paper children were born. [music break] AM: We had the opportunity to interview the genealogist Grant Din, whose grandfather and granduncle came to America as paper sons -- for, most often, paper children were sons, though of course daughters came over too, as well as wives. Like many others at that time, they were detained at the immigration station on Angel Island. This replaced the Pacific Mail detention shed Richard Everett was telling us about. SO: Grant worked with Richard to identify the location of that shed, and now he coordinates the website Immigrant Voices for the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. Here’s one excerpt from our interview. *** AM: Could you describe what “paper sons” or “paper daughters” are and how this practice came to be? GD: Sure -- so the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 said that the Chinese laborers could not come into this country, but if you were a merchant, traveler, student, diplomat -- people who weren't going to stay -- you could come to this country. And so there were some exceptions where people who were sons and daughters of those who were legally here could come to this country. GD: And those who were born here had to fight for their rights because birthright citizenship, as we know it today, did not exist. There is a man named Wong Kim Ark, who in the late 1800s was denied the ability to come back into this country, even though he was born in the U.S. The immigration authorities had said your parents were not born here. And so, therefore, you have no rights. So he took it all the way to the Supreme Court aided by San Francisco organizations, in Chinatown and won. And so in 1898, U.S. versus Wong Kim Ark, uh, set forth that the right of birthright citizenship. And so when he won that case, they made it possible for those who were born here or who, who said they were born here, to be citizens. And so some people tried to get around this even before the earthquake, where they would claim they were children of merchants or children of people who were born here. But it really accelerated after the earthquake and fire--especially the fire--destroyed all the records in San Francisco City Hall and // the Hall of Records. And so the Hall of Records put out a call to people saying, Oh, we lost all our records. We're recreating things like birth certificates and so on. So if you want to get your birth certificate, just come // tell us when you were born here. And so a number of Chinese were not stupid. They said, hmmm, if I claim to be born here, I can have the rights of a citizen. *** AM: The workaround they devised was so elaborate. According to the book Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America by Erika Lee and Judy Yung, a man could even claim he had however many number of children and sell off “slots” to prospective migrants to become his paper son. SO: Elaborate and widespread. According to the same book, both detainees and officials at Angel Island said that approximately 90% of Chinese in that period had false papers. AM: If you look at what they were doing -- on paper, it was illegal. But consider this oral history excerpt, quoted in that same book. A detainee there, Mr. Chan, said: “We didn’t want to come in illegally, but we were forced to because of the immigration laws. They particularly picked on the Chinese. If we told the truth, it didn’t work. So we had to take the crooked path.” SO: Would you have risked taking this crooked path? AM: I honestly don’t know. Would you? SO: Hmn. I mean, at best, it could lead to family reunions, the opportunity to support family back home, or -- this might be sounding trite by now, but it’s true -- a chance for a better life, however way people might make that mean. AM: At worst, there was detention and deportation. Which, considering all the resources someone would have had to put into uprooting themselves... I mean, moving today is hard enough! And steamship fare was not inexpensive. We’ve learned people had to buy round-trip tickets in case authorities found out they were gaming the system and sent them back. SO: Yeah. Here’s Grant again, describing interrogations that tried to prove people were who they said they were. *** GD: Eventually, very quickly, the government got wise to this. The immigration official said, well, you know, this person doesn't look like his so-called father. They asked some questions that supposedly the father would know, and the son would know, because they lived in the same village. How many steps is it from your house to the village well? How many windows in your home? Who lives in the third house in the fourth row of your village? What kind of feet does his wife have? Because unfortunately there was still some foot-binding going on. But no one in their right mind would know anyway. No , I don't know who lives next door, you know, could I answer who lives down the street? [SO & AM laugh] And then they'd say, Oh, your uncle, when did he get married? And then for people who had claimed to be married, what kind of a feast did you have? How many tables? You know, who was there? And all kinds of things designed to trip people up. So before people would come over, they would get coaching books. And so the people would know that these are the kinds of questions that the authorities ask when they purchase an identity or when they even come as a child of their own real father, they'd still have to study for all these questions. And sometimes they quit school.They basically just spend their time studying. They sometimes study on the ship, but they'd always be told to throw the coaching book overboard when you get there just in case you get discovered. So the questioning would usually take place over a few days. There'd be a couple of immigration officials. There'd be a translator. There would be a stenographer who would take notes. And they'd rotate the translators because they didn't want any collusion between one particular immigrant and a translator who might be feeding them answers. *** SO: Anne, I’m trying to imagine myself in the shoes of those immigrants -- just the ordeal they had to go through. AM: We did learn about one ordeal that was -- well, let’s recount her story and let listeners choose how to describe it. SO: You’re talking about Soto Shee, right? AM: Yes. While in her first trimester, Soto Shee sailed from Hong Kong with her husband, and their seven-month old son. When they left Hong Kong, there was not yet a law banning the Chinese wives of U.S. citizens. But, by the time they arrived in July 1924, there was. Soto Shee was detained. After one month, she was declared an ineligible alien. Five days later, while still in detention, her young son died on Angel Island. SO: She had to stay there while her child’s body was brought to San Francisco for burial. And though she requested to be released on bond, to be with her husband -- because who wouldn’t in those circumstances? -- that request was denied. AM: Soto Shee hanged herself... which was not uncommon for detainees to do. But the matron found her, still conscious, and she recovered. Finally, she was admitted into the U.S. on bond, and eventually won the legal battle to stay here. SO: Remember the child she was pregnant with through all this? [AM: Mhm] When she was born, Soto Shee and her husband named her May Ho -- after the words meaning “America” and “good.” She herself said that her parents’ reason was that, quote, “They were starting anew in America--everything will be good for them now.” AM: Hm, Soto Shee wasn’t the only who was eventually “landed”, as it was known. From 1910 to 1924, over 76% of Chinese rejected at Angel Island appealed their cases. 39% of those appeals were successful. [music break] SO: It’s humbling to learn of even just one story… and there are so many, because while we know there are thousands of immigrants, nobody can really say how many paper children there were. Or how many different ways they did what they did to come here. AM: Grant Din himself, and more specifically, his grandparents, are proof of that. SO: Yeah! Let’s listen to him tell his family’s story. *** GD: First of all, our family's name is Din. But I was told from a rather young age that our family's real name was Gong. So I always wondered how does that happen? And it's even more convoluted story than the typical family. I had a grandfather named Gong Bow Gwun. And so he lived in a part of China called Fay Yuen which is north of what's now the Guangzhou airport. His family sent him to the U.S. when he was 17. He bought, or he or his family bought a paper name for a man named Ow Luen. And so when he came to this country in 1912, he had to pretend he was the son of a man named Ow. His papers said he was a single man, 'cause he was only 17. Later on, his brother came over and I think that was 1919 or so. And he bought papers, to say that his name was Doon Ho. But for whatever reasons, he bought papers of a married man. When it came to time to use the slot for his wife, my grandfather's wife came over instead. I don't know the reasons, but she came over and said she was my grandfather's brother's wife. Her name was Lock Shee. And for a while, they all lived in the same household, but my grandfather had a different address than his wife just in case immigration authorities would come check on him. My grandfather's brother ended up passing away. That meant my grandfather started using his brother's name because then he'd be legally married to his own wife. Because on the paper, it said that it was Doon Ho who was married to Lock Shee. And so he started going by Doon Ho, which was somehow along the way had been transformed into Hew Din, with Din as the last name. Whatever the reasons he ended up going by Hew Din, which is why all his kids and grandkids and so on are named Din. When, you know, you meet a Chinese person, they'll say, "Din?" [laughs] And I would say our family name is really Gong. And in many, many, many Chinese families, it's like, “What? Is that your real name or is that your paper name?” [AM/SO laugh] And you know, it's a whole crazy kind of thing. *** AM: So, Sabrina, the next time someone asks... “What’s in a name?” SO: Well, I don’t actually know how many people that aren’t named Juliet ask that question.[AM laughs] But be it a street name or a family name -- I think we’re learning that so much of a legacy can be wrapped up in it. AM: As you said earlier, there are so many possible stories. A paper son could have come over here only on the pretext of being someone’s relative -- but they could have actually been someone’s child or spouse or sibling, trying to reunite. SO: And even if a paper child didn’t have blood relatives on this side of the journey, they could still form a new family. They could still arrive and find a community. AM: Yes. Going back to the Chinese community in San Francisco, it’s worth noting that immigrants weren’t without some institutionalized support, but it didn’t come from the state, the city, or labor unions. It came in the form of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, which was more commonly known as the Six Companies. SO: The Six Companies were founded in the tradition of huiguan , which were a series of guildhalls established by regional organizations during the Qing Dynasty. These were places where merchants and officials from the same locale or the same dialect groups could obtain food, shelter, and assistance while away from home. AM: They were instrumental in building familiarity and solidarity among the members of a province or a certain region. And they played an important function in the growth of trade and commerce. It became customary for Chinese who moved overseas to set up huiguan in the cities they settled into. SO: Of course, you have to wonder. For those paper children, did you join the guildhall of your village or of your paper village? [music break] AM: Who are you, on paper? And how much can a piece of paper really say about who you are? SO: That might depend on who wrote on the paper. What’s written on it. AM: And why it was written in the first place. SO: Thinking about new and borrowed identities has brought to mind so many more questions. AM: Like, is the taking on of the new identity a chance for rebirth? SO : I think it depends on whether it was voluntary or forced. AM: Did the majority of people who utilized the paper child system do so of their own volition? SO: What of the people who were given new identities, but not necessarily new opportunities? AM: And, Sabrina, I think we have our next episode. [exit music] SO: You can read more first-hand family accounts about paper children and other immigrant stories on the website of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. Go to mmigrant-dash-voices-dot-AIISF-dot-org.

Episode music: “Our Fingers Cold”, “Snowcrop”, “Slate Tracker” and “A Rush of Clear Water” by Blue Dot Sessions. Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC.

For “paper sons” and “paper daughters” – Chinese men and women who assumed false identities to circumvent exclusionary immigration laws – starting a new life in America required mastering someone else's history.

Gold Mountain

Open Transcript


Intro music:

Oh my darling, oh my darling Oh my darling, Clementine You are lost and gone forever Dreadful sorry, Clementine

SO: Hi Anne!

AM: Hi Sabrina! What have we got going today?

SO: Well, in our last episode, we talked about the misconception that the Gold Rush inspired the Golden Gate Bridge’s name. Today, I thought we could talk more deeply about the Gold Rush itself, and the people who sailed through the gate for it… which leads me to my first question. Were you watching Huckleberry Hound when I got here?

AM: [laughs] I was not watching Huckleberry Hound! I was listening to the song he sings, “Oh My Darling Clementine”? [SO: hm] Growing up, most of what I knew about the Gold Rush came from it – like the bit about “the miner, forty-niner.” Now, the song has made me see the Gold Rush in a whole new light. Plus, it has an interesting history.

SO: Was it written during the Gold Rush?

AM: The song as we know it, no. The lyrics were written in 1884, some 30 years after gold mining peaked in California. But it’s said that the melody comes from an older ballad that Mexican miners made popular. And the story in that ballad is a Spanish romance dating back to the Middle Ages.

SO: That sounds like a research rabbit hole I would so jump into. And I thought I was the one who came here ready to share songs!

AM: More songs about the Gold Rush?

SO: To be precise, they’re called Songs of Gold Mountain.

AM: Gold Mountain. That sounds like a rabbit hole I have jumped into.

SO: Maybe we should take this one song at a time. Shall we start with Clementine? Break music In a canyon, in a cavern Excavating for a mine Lived [Possibly dwelt?] a miner, forty-niner And his daughter, Clementine. Ruby lips above the water Blowing bubbles, soft and fine Alas for me, I was no swimmer So I lost my Clementine AM: Clementine drowned in a river. I never realized the lyrics were so tragic.

SO: Or so rich in detail for talking about the Gold Rush.

AM: Right? The part about the “miner, forty-niner” is just one jumping point. Today, we refer to all those who came to California in search of gold as 49ers. That’s because 1849 was when the majority of people from all over California, the U.S, and the world started leaving their homes, trying to strike it rich.

SO: Those verses also speak to how they did that. If Clementine and her father were living “in a cavern, in a canyon” and he was doing excavations -- he likely wasn’t one of the first miners to arrive in gold country. If he was, he would have been panning for gold in a river or a stream.

AM: Right! That’s how individual fortune-seekers started, before larger mining operations took over. They put a mixture of river sediment and water in a shallow pan. They swirled the pan so the water and lighter particles spilled out, which left behind heavier gold flakes. Nuggets, if you were so lucky.

SO: It sounds simple, right? If that’s all you had to do -- or thought you had to do -- I understand how people caught gold fever. As you know, James Marshall, the guy who essentially kicked off the Gold Rush, he found flakes simply by seeing them in a river.

AM: Yes. James Marshall was a carpenter from New Jersey. Did you know that? [SO: Nope.] In 1848, he was building a sawmill near the American River, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, for the Swiss rancher John Sutter. This was some 130 miles northeast of San Francisco. On January 24th, Marshall saw flakes glittering in the water. He thought they were gold, but he wasn’t sure. So he scooped them into a rag, then took the shining dust to his boss at Sutter’s Fort. Once Sutter confirmed it, they tried to keep it under wraps, but failed. Dramatically. [SO chuckles] A sawmill worker told Samuel Brannan, a store owner in Sutter’s Fort and the founder of San Francisco’s first newspaper, the California Star [SO: mhm]...and, well...remember that vial of gold at the park’s Visitor Center?

SO: The one that’s actually filled with liquid and lit up like gold, yes.

AM: Brannan filled a bottle like that with real gold. When he got back to San Francisco, he stepped off the ferry shouting “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” In the next seven months, 75% of San Francisco’s male residents had gone up to Sutter’s Creek. There were 4,000 miners in the area by August 1848. That’s months before President James Polk himself confirmed the abundance of gold, triggering the full-blown rush of ‘49. Ironically, Marshall never struck it rich himself. After his discovery, workers largely abandoned Marshall and Sutter to seek their own fortunes and the sawmill ultimately failed. Marshall was said to carry a great deal of bitterness for the rest of his life. And they were far from the only ones who hoped to find their fortunes in rivers of gold and never came close to their dreams.

SO: I guess it just wasn’t easy, even at the start. The best panner could only clear about 50 pans in a 12-hour work day. This is how one of Marshall’s workers, a member of the Mormon Battalion named Henry William Bigler, describes a few days of panning in his diary. It’s just after Marshall’s discovery on January 24: Sunday, January 30th- clean I has been all the last week. Our metal has been [tried] and proves to be [gold] it is thought to be rich we have pict up more than a hundred dollars worth last week. Sunday, February 6th - the weather has been clean and warm the past week. Today myself & Mr. Bargen went over the creek to look for gold. I found $6 worth. Saturday, February 12th - this afternoon I did not work being tired not very well. I took the gun & went a long way down the creek to hunt for ducks. So there’s a lesson for you, Anne. When you hit a wall at work, go hunt for ducks.

AM: [laughs] Hunting for ducks. I like it better than “gone fishing”!

SO: Do you think we can get a sign for the office?

AM: Sooo, to go back to a question from last episode...and as a side note, yes I hope so. [SO laughs]--who really made money in the Gold Rush? Early miners did. From 1849 to 1852 -- when the Rush peaked -- they found $207 million worth of gold. That’s about $644 million today. [Hm] But as surface gold ran out, larger-scale mining companies, which had the tools and equipment to get gold underground, ran in. By 1855, when the Gold Rush ended, individual miners were earning not from their discoveries but from wages working for these companies.

SO: And speaking of large companies, we know who else struck it rich: merchants -- and they weren’t even looking for gold! A man named Levi Strauss saw workers needed durable clothes, so he made pants which became Levi’s pants. Henry Wells and William Fargo saw the people could use banking services -- they founded Wells Fargo. And attorneys like Frederick Billings also made their fortunes offering legal services.

AM: And Samuel Brannan -- remember him? [SO: mhm] -- he was California’s first millionaire. He accomplished that by buying and reselling prospecting equipment. His store sold $5,000 per day to miners, or $155,000 per day by today’s standards.

SO: I bet Amazon can do that. But anyway...I’ve always associated the Hearst family with major mining operations. But I assumed they made their fortune with the Gold Rush. Turns out it was mostly silver ore, later on, in Utah. Still, George Hearst came to California in 1850 for gold at Sutter’s Fort. He found some small success in prospecting, and combined that income with running a general store, raising livestock, and farming. [AM: Wow.] His only son, William Randolph, was born here and he would become the publishing giant who owned the San Francisco Examiner, among other things.

AM: It seems relatively few found the fortunes they sought in the gold rush…

SO: Maybe even fewer in the ways they expected...

AM: But perhaps the more enduring legacy of the discovery at Sutter’s Mill was that so many more cultures, personalities, and identities became part of California.

SO: You know, given that, maybe there’s another answer to “Who won the Gold Rush?”

AM: Oh, yeah? Who?

SO: San Francisco.

[“Conde Olinos”]

SO: Until the Gold Rush, San Francisco was just this quiet, if strategic, trading post for ships visiting the bay. In fact, it didn’t even have the name San Francisco till 1847. This happened amidst the Mexican-American War, as the U.S. claimed California for America. Before that, it was called Yerba Buena -- and this only referred to the settlement around present-day Portsmouth Square in Chinatown. Following the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Fort, San Francisco’s population BOOMED with fortune seekers. People came from elsewhere in California, Oregon, the East Coast of America -- not to mention Europe, Russia, Hawaii, Mexico, Chile, Peru, China, it can go on and on. [AM: Wow.] In 1850 alone, the population of San Francisco went from 18,000 to over 90,000. That’s a 500% increase in a single year.

AM: Wow. It did have the perfect location. While people had made the journey west over land, traveling by sea was still the fastest way to California from the east coast. And just as small mining towns spread through the region, supporting miners with shops, laundries, saloons, and other businesses, it made sense that the port town would become a new metropolis. In fact, the Gold Rush boom helped fast-track California into statehood. It makes me wonder: what if the Gold Rush hadn’t happened to San Francisco?

SO: What if? Did you know that James W. Marshall wasn’t the first person to discover gold in what is today California?

AM: NO! Tell me more.

SO: I didn’t know till working on this episode either! But rumors of gold in California circulated as early as the 1810s. And in 1842, a rancher, Don Francisco Lopez, found gold in Santa Clarita Valley, near Los Angeles. That story’s become a fairytale in itself. Supposedly, Lopez fell asleep beneath a magnificent oak tree and dreamt he was in a pool of liquid gold. [AM: Hmm] When he woke up, hungry, he saw a wild onion growing nearby. He dug it out… and, lo and behold, there was gold on its roots! It’s more likely Lopez was looking for gold, knowing tales of secret mines found by native Indians and Spanish friars, but the point is: there was a mini-gold rush before the Gold Rush. Between 1842 and 1847, hundreds of hopefuls tried their luck and found an average of 260 pounds of the metal each year. By 1847, it seemed that the area had been mined out, so attention soon turned to the sensationalized discovery farther north in the Sacramento Valley. [music break]

AM: And so it was that the world came to San Francisco. The people who came to seek gold in California were called argonauts after the myth of Jason and the search for the golden fleece. [SO: mmhmm] In order to retrieve the fleece of a golden-woolled winged ram, Jason sailed the ship Argo from--I’m going to mess up these Greek islands--Iolchos to Colchis. His crew became known as the Argonauts.

SO: But, unlike Argo, which was christened by Poseidon and placed in the stars after her successful journey, the ships which brought miners to California had a far more, let’s say, earthbound fate.

AM: [laughs] That’s true! To tell us more about those ships and their enduring legacy in San Francisco, we’ve invited Richard Everett, the former curator of exhibits at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

SO: He spoke with us about how Gold Rush ships came to figuratively and literally form some of the foundation of the San Francisco we see today.

AM: Here are excerpts from our conversation:

AM: Could you tell us where the ships for the Gold Rush came from?

RE: In 1849 and 50, up to 1000 ships came to San Francisco…. 75% were from North American ports, a third of those from New York, 18% were from Central America and 7% were from Europe. I must add that of the 18% coming from Central America they would be ships largely from European ports that were trading on the West Coast of South America. Almost all the ships from the East Coast would stop in Valparaiso, Chile. The Chileans had been hard-rock mining for years for the Europeans, years and years and years, their talents and skills at drilling into hard granite and all were in great demand in the Sierras for looking for gold and they came up on spec to see how much money they could make, uh, hard-rock mining up in California. They had a whole neighborhood along there the Gold Rush waterfront. Aboard all these ships coming to San Francisco during the Gold Rush beginning, um heck, even in ‘48, ‘49 were many Chinese. The Chinese were seeking labor in large ways all over the world from Cuba to South America. They were already out there,when news of the Gold Rush hit. Um, many, many Chinese coming in, uh, to San Francisco from--as we said--all over the world, different ports, but primarily from Canton in China. There are fascinating, uh, newspaper ads for such-and-such a ship arriving from Canton all through ‘49 and ‘50 listing all the wonderful amazing cargoes that were for sale that these ships carried on board. The cargoes from all over the world and people created a great need for mercantile activity and how to sell these cargoes. There was so few buildings and so little wood in SF, ships like Niantic made a great convenient warehouse and also a business model for other store-ships, like the Apollo and the Gen. Harrison that were operated in the same manner.

SO: Am I right in remembering that among the supplies they sold there were picks and other equipment for Gold Rush Miners?

RE: You are exactly right, Sabrina. [chuckles] The Gold Rush was about getting gold, and so the miners, of course, everyone knew that they would need pickaxes and pans for sifting the gold and shovels and Niantic had quite a bunch of these things on board. Remember, she was a whaler caught midstream by the Gold Rush and came rushing up here with people on board. Some of the 250 passengers might have had some of these things with them so they were found with the ship, but more likely they were cargoes from other ships bringing in hardware for the miners.

AM: And so, our next question is, why are there ships buried under San Francisco?

RE: Why are there ships... [chuckles] Everyone wants to know that and it’s, uh, very interesting, of course! One thing you need to know is that one of the important dates in SF’s history is the May 3rd 1851 fire. One of six or seven fires that plagued SF in its early years during the Gold Rush. This was the most devastating fire. It started the night of May 3rd and burned all the next day, May 4th. It took out over 2,000 buildings as I recall, and this fire also, since the piers extended out from the city and the city extended out into the piers, it obliterated, burned up many of these ships and the piers as well as the buildings along the waterfront. And so, after the fire you have this giant mass of wreckage of blackened ships poking out of the mud everywhere. And many people already had their eyes on gaining land in San Francisco. This was the perfect opportunity to push the sand hills and cart them down to the edge fill the cove in out to deeper water, obliterating the cove and burying the remains of all those ships.

AM: When looking for evidence of buried ships, we don’t even have to leave the park. In addition to a display in the Visitor Center of artifacts found during the excavation of buried ships in what is today San Francisco’s Financial District, there is a sizable piece of the Niantic on display in the Maritime Museum. Here, Richard tells us more about the history of the Niantic and her different jobs in Gold Rush California.

RE: The Niantic was a ship originally built for the China trade carrying teacups and porcelains and silks and teas between NY and Canton. She did that for quite a few years and was one of the last ships to get out before the Opium War took hold and the Chinese closed the port. Well, she gets back to New York and she’s bought by new people and turned into a whaler for the Pacific. And the new captain, Captain Henry Cleveland, finds himself approached at a port in Peru by some merchants who wanted to appropriate his ship and purchase it...its services to get 49ers. And that’s how the NIantic got up to San Francisco from Peru as a former whaler and then as a passenger ship, hauls herself on shore, was repurposed into those three different uses--the warehouse, the saloon, and the hotel.

AM: The Niantic stands out as an example of versatility and adaptability. In researching this episode, we’ve discovered that not only was there not just one path to success in SF, but no path was guaranteed or straightforward...of course, if you want to go anywhere in San Francisco, you’re going to have to navigate the hills. Here, Richard talks a little more about the role the Gold Rush had in shaping the San Francisco and California we see today.

RE: The biggest impact the Gold Rush had was jumpstarting San Francisco into a city… with a massive economy, businesses and railroads need to be built out here…it turned San Francisco into a world port overnight and it just kept going with great impact over the rest of the world. The development of California basically begins in spades, with the development of San Francisco.

AM: I mean, the truth of it is the Gold Rush jumpstarts the development, but so many other trades and businesses come into SF that really change it into what we know it as today. None of our ships that are still in the water were directly associated with the Gold Rush, but they wouldn’t be in San Francisco without it.

RE: Your words really help, Anne. It’s one of the biggest impacts, probably overall, is the impact of so many different people from all over the world coming here and deciding to stay. And so, beginning with the Gold Rush, you have...some people have said it was the first collection of so many people from all of the world to ever occur in one place at one time.

[Audio pause / music break]

AM: Okay, we’ve talked about caverns and lost loves, buried ships and booming towns. Now can we talk about Gold Mountain?

SO: Gold Mountain sounds so mythical, right? It could certainly fit in with lost loves and buried ships. But we’ve been talking about Gold Mountain the entire time. [AM: Huh.] Gold Mountain, or Gum Saan, was how the Chinese referred to California once word of gold made its way past the Golden Gate and across the Pacific. I’ve always wondered what they must have thought, coming here--with all that ocean between them--to this faraway, unseen place of riches.

AM: You’re not the only one! In creating the “Ancestors in America” PBS series, the documentary creators used --among other things--third person accounts, newspaper clippings, and census records to reconstruct the perspective of a Chinese laborer traveling to Gold Mountain.

SO: Cool.

AM: He may have said something along the lines of “All the world has gone to California for the Gold Rush. We Chinese, too. I do not fear slavery as has happened to others. I will not be whipped like they were on the ships or herded like so many pigs in its hold. No. I go as a free man, with a ticket on credit. And I will surely pay it back. Others from our village are already there. They will greet me. I will not be alone... “I will do my best remembering who waits for me. Returning joyously with the gold. With a family. For the village. We leave now for Gold Mountain.”

SO: That sounds so inspiring, if I may say so. [AM: Mhmm] And I guess many did follow the call. Because by 1851, Chinese laborers made up one-fifth of the workers in the mines. Besides the promise of the fortunes of Gum Saan, many came to America seeking any opportunity greater than the flood-ravaged fields of a country still reeling from the First Opium War. After the gold ran out, they stayed behind -- partly because it was difficult to get back home, partly because they pursued the work opportunities they had here. And others kept following, too. That’s how Chinese laborers became a major force in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. By the time that was completed in 1869, Chinese made up over 90 percent of the Central Pacific Rail’s workforce.

AM: And that was due in no small part to the Burlingame-Seward Treaty of 1868, which established formal friendly relations between China and the United States and gave China the status of, quote, “most favored nation” in trade with the US. On paper, equality was established between the nations. This lent towards freer immigration and the protection of Chinese citizens in the United States, as well as the steady flow of migrant workers for US businesses. But, as you know, legislation and reality wouldn’t be so friendly.

SO: Last episode, we talked a lot about John Fremont, who named the Golden Gate Strait as the golden gate for trade with the Orient. It seems like his prediction was correct. With the railroad and the treaty connecting continents, the golden vein through the golden gate finally fell into place.

AM: And it wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation and contributions of the Chinese on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

SO: But let's never forget, it's not like California was just there for Americans, Europeans or Asians to live and work in.

AM: That’s true.

SO: Native American tribes who had thrived in what is today California suffered violence, disease, outright genocide. They lost freedom, property, and opportunity with the influx of foreign settlers. Going back to Sutter’s Mill -- John Sutter, who was born Johann Suter, was a Swiss shop owner who left his debts, country, and family to pursue fortune in the United States. After arriving in California in 1841, he converted to Catholicism and became a Mexican citizen. This was to convince the Mexican provincial governor to grant him nearly 50,000 acres, which became known as Nueva Helvetia. But, of course, this land wasn’t unoccupied.

AM: Of course not. Initially, it seems Sutter carried on friendly relations with the Nisenan people--the terms of his land grant required it--but over time, he was said to treat them as militia and laborers, interfere with tribal marriage customs, and he was accused by another Swiss in his employ, Heinrich Lienhard, of molesting Native American girls. He was brutal and violent. A visitor to Sutter’s ranch, James Clyman of Virginia, recalled that Sutter kept, quote, “600 to 800 [Native Americans] in a complete state of Slavery and as I had the mortification of seeing them dine I may give a short description. 10 or 15 troughs 3 or 4 feet long were brought out of the cook room and seated in the broiling sun. All the labourers great and small ran to the troughs like so many pigs and fed themselves with their hands as long as the troughs contained even a moisture.”

SO: As if that wasn’t enough, if they weren’t technically enslaved, the Natives were paid in currency which was only recognized at the store on Sutter’s property. [AM: Wow.] With the discovery of gold there, miners overwhelmed the Sacramento Valley. Disease, brutality, and loss beset the local tribes. By 1870, only 30,000 native people were estimated to remain in the state of California, most without access to their ancestral land.

AM: And all that so other people could have stronger claims to new lands and new lives to call their own.

SO: My heart hurts now. [AM: Mhmm] But, that history keeps repeating itself. Anytime, anywhere, any civilization, but also, right here in San Francisco, in California.

AM: Yeah... we need not look farther than Gold Mountain again. Immigrants from different places are targeted and abused in their new countries, but the Chinese bore the brunt of it during and after the Gold Rush, as they were seen as competition for money and jobs. Just take this account from the journalist Samuel Bowles’ book, “Our New West”, published in 1869: “To abuse a Chinaman; to rob him; to kick and cuff him; even to kill him, have been things not only done with impunity... but even with vain glory… Had the Chinaman a good claim, original or improved, he was ordered to ‘move on,’--it belonged to someone else. Had he hoarded a pile, he was ordered to disgorge; and, if he resisted, he was killed... they have been wantonly assaulted and shot down or stabbed by bad men, as sportsmen would surprise and shoot their game in the woods. There was no risk in such barbarity; if [he] survived to tell the tale, the law would not hear him or believe him. Nobody was so low, so miserable, that he did not despise the Chinaman.”

SO: Do you think Clementine, or her father, or the guy in love with her -- what do you think their relations with the Native Americans or Chinese were like? I mean, I know what society at large was like, but I always want to think there are individuals who don’t just fall into those lines.

AM: That’s true. But also hard to say. By the time the song as we know it was written, in 1884, all the anti-Chinese sentiment had already come to a head with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Like the PBS documentary, we can only reconstruct potential thoughts from the texts we do have.

[Audio break] Then the miner, forty-niner Soon began to droop and pine Thought he oughter join his daughter So he's with his Clementine.

Oh, my darling, oh, my darling Oh, my darling Clementine You are lost and gone forever Dreadful sorry, Clementine. [End of Audio Break]

SO: This has all gone so much darker than Huckleberry Hound.

AM: It was one of the realities of the Gold Rush, though. People separated from their families -- and they often strove to reunite with them. Not in the way it goes in “Clementine,” of course. Or so I hope.

SO: True. There was this distinction, at least where Gold Mountain was concerned. Many of its seekers considered themselves sojourners, not settlers. The idea was that they weren’t moving to Gold Mountain to live there forever; they just wanted to earn enough to send home, then eventually return home. The flip side is this helped contribute to the idea that these people, who had mined gold, built railroads, worked fields, and done so much other work for California and the US, were not quote-unquote “real” Americans.

AM: But, of course, there were settlers, too. And where others would have wanted to reunite with their families back in Asia, these settlers wanted to bring their families over here, to their new home.

SO: I can imagine. It must have been so lonely, both sides of the ocean. There wasn’t email, Zoom, or a dependable international mail system. [AM: mhm] How did they keep a sense of home? How did they keep in touch?

AM: Unfortunately, there are very few letters in the public domain between Chinese miners and their families. The creators of the PBS “Ancestors in America” documentary series I mentioned earlier [SO: Mhm] combined research history with storytelling to bring to light the point of view of a Chinese man who had left his family behind to work in gold rush-era California. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d love to share one more excerpt.

SO: Oh, I love excerpts! Go ahead. But only if I get to share something after.

AM: [laughs] Deal. “You know how we send money home? First, you look for a letter-writer on the street or in the Chinese store. Tell him to write only good things. Nothing bad happened. Then give the letter and money to the head man at the Chinese store here who does business with the Chinese store in our village. Chinese merchants all know each other from business, even across the ocean. Somebody knows our family there. Somebody will read the letter to our family. And if we do not send money, our family tells them to find our kinsman here to scold us. Their letter to us, last words always say, ‘When are you coming home?’”

SO: Wow. That’s...Well, the piece I actually wanted to share is a Cantonese folk song. It represents the perspective of a wife left behind in Guangdong during the New Year, which is a time of reunions. In English, the title translates to “Laments of the Wife of a Gold Mountain Man”. She says this: So comes the New Year; Still I must wait for you. Red paper coins decorate houses everywhere; New Year scrolls proclaim good fortunes. Images of the Three Immortals of Happiness, Longevity, and Prosperity grace the front door. All over the place, thousands of flowers are sweet and candles bright. Families are together as husband and wife unite. In abundance, chicken and pork are prepared; Loud firecrackers burst off clouds of smoke. And for me A time for reunion means a solitary retreat. The taste of honey now is not at all sweet.

AM: We began this whole conversation talking about songs and verses and there’s this underlying idea of how history runs through them. Did you know, when you found that Cantonese folk song, that the melody in “Oh My Darling Clementine” is now used in a Chinese New Year children’s song?

SO: No, I did not!

AM: It seems that adaptation is fairly recent. “Clementine” has had so many in so many languages since Bing Crosby and Huckleberry Hound. So the miner’s ballad might have nothing to do with it. I mean, the song itself basically keeps saying, “We are singing, we are dancing, happy new year to you all!”

SO: That sounds hopeful and innocent.

AM: Yeah!

SO: So far from the tragedy of Clementine or of separated Gold Mountain families -- or, for that matter, the original lovers in the Spanish ballad. According to the research rabbit hole I did get into, they couldn’t marry because of, guess what? Exclusionary laws about royal blood.

AM: How surprising. It’s the exact same melody, with the exact same space for words, but because of the circumstances, the stories and emotions are different. Songs could be reversed that way. It also makes me think, what if Clementine had been left behind? What if she couldn’t follow her father to the cavern in the canyon? Would “Oh My Darling” have been a song about Clementine missing her father instead?

SO: It’s funny you mention that. Another Cantonese folk song around the Chinese New Year seems to be from the point of view of a child whose father has gone to Gold Mountain.

AM: Oh, dear. I both want to hear this and am not sure I’m emotionally prepared.

SO: It’s a hopeful one this time.

AM: Okay…

SO: Swallows and magpies, flying in glee: Greetings for New Year. Daddy has gone to Gold Mountain To earn money. He will earn gold and silver, Ten thousand taels. When he returns, We will buy a lot of land.

AM: [chuckles] You’re right. That was hopeful! And it makes me wonder--how easy was it for Chinese families to be reunited in California?

SO: Hold that thought again, I think we have our next episode.

[Outro music, “Xiannan Hao Ya”]

SO: You’ve just gotten a glimpse into a new project we’re excited to bring to your virtual park. “Better Lives, Bitter Lies” is a podcast series focusing on the role of propaganda, trickery, and misinformation in bringing people to the San Francisco Bay in search of better lives since 1849. These discussions are not meant to be comprehensive pictures of historical events, but rather to spark curiosity, discussion, and further exploration. Keep an eye out for our next episode!

Episode music: “Clementine” from the W.P.A. California Folk Music Project, Library of Congress; “Romance del Conde Olinos” performed by Joaquín Díaz; and “Xinnian Hao Ya” by EZY Mandarin.

In 1848, James Marshall, a New Jersey-born carpenter, discovered flakes of gold in the American River, gilding California in layers of dreams and promises. Tens of thousands from around the world soon made their way to San Francisco, seeking their fortunes and sealing that of the small port town beyond the Golden Gate. These new arrivals included countless Chinese, who called California by another name: gam saan, or “Gold Mountain.”


Open Transcript


AM: Hello. I’m Anne Monk. SO: And I’m Sabrina Oliveros. AM: We’re park guides at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. SO: Since you hit the play button, you probably know that you’re about to listen to the first episode of our podcast series, Better Lives, Bitter Lies. AM: But, before the episode proper, we wanted to take a moment to talk about why we started this podcast. When shelter-in-place orders for the COVID-19 pandemic were issued in San Francisco, we didn’t know how long we would be working from home, or what “working from home” would look like for people whose jobs were regularly interacting with thousands of people each day. SO: We were in very fortunate positions. We did not have to worry immediately about shelter, food, or whether we would receive our next paycheck. AM: But we worried about how we could best use this time away from our physical park. What could we learn? How could we continue to serve our park and its mission? For us, it was to learn as much as we could and to share it however was feasible. SO: Our park’s mission is to, quote, “forge emotional and intellectual connections through preservation and interpretation of the resources and stories of America's maritime gateways, history, and culture, especially the development of the Pacific Coast.” AM: That’s quite the tall order. SO: Well, we have tall ships! AM: And they’re a great place to start learning! SO: Mhmm. AM: So much history is held within the walls of our ships. And let’s not forget about the waters they float in--the San Francisco Bay.

SO: True. There’s just so much to learn and studying history doesn’t happen in a vacuum. AM: True. SO: So when we started this project, our minds were understandably preoccupied with questions of contagious diseases. AM: And, naturally, one of the topics which caught our attention was the Bubonic Plague of 1900-1904, which reached San Francisco through ships coming from the Pacific. The plague also became racialized and politicized as a disease brought about by Chinese immigration. There was considerable room for maritime-related interpretation -- and for an exploration of how and why that plague has parallels with the COVID-19 pandemic today. SO: As Anne said, we felt we needed to learn as much on the subject and understand its nuances as much as we could. Research sent us farther down--as we're fond of saying on this podcast [AM laughs]--more and more rabbit holes. Then we discovered that understanding anything about the plague meant understanding layer upon layer of San Francisco's history. This dates all the way back before the Gold Rush, to the vision of the Golden Gate as a, quote-unquote, “gateway to trade with the Orient.” AM: We then realized that the plague, the Gold Rush -- and so many other things we'd discovered in between -- were also related to two maritime topics we had each independently been studying. One was sexual slavery in Chinatown and the Barbary Coast. The other was debt peonage among the so-called, quote-unquote “China Gang” on ships like the Star of Alaska, which is called in our park by its original name, Balclutha. The narrative and thematic focus of our podcast came to take shape significantly around the Chinese-American experience. SO: Yet, as we began working on all these topics, parsing their relationship with the present and forming the framework for this series, our attention--and, I think it’s safe to say, the country’s attention--was turned again. AM: With the wrongful deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor--among so many, many other Black lives lost this year and before-- the nation’s focus as well as our own shifted and we want to address the movement for justice and the protection and respect of Black lives. SO: So while we start this podcast with some focus on the Chinese-American experience, that won’t be the only one we’re sharing. After all, there is never a single story -- especially not when talking about history. AM: We hope that in continuing this work and thinking critically about the stories we tell and the stories which have always been told to us, we will spark curiosity, ignite discussion, and normalize questioning personal bias. We hope we will all reconsider how these biases frame not only the way we look at history, but also the history we choose to look at. SO: Or the history that we are told to look at. AM: Or the history we don’t realize we’re looking at. SO: I think we can hash that out as episodes go along. AM: I think you’re right. SO: But, for our listeners out there...if you’re still with us [AM chuckles] -- you’ll now hear the first episode in our series, Better Lives, Bitter Lies. This was originally recorded in April 2020 and it takes the first steps into questioning the narratives we know. AM: We hope you enjoy it!

[music cue]

AM: Hi, Sabrina! SO: Hi, Anne! What have we got going on today? AM: Well, I thought we could talk about the most common question we get as park guides at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. SO: Do you mean besides “Where’s the bathroom?” AM: [laughs] For the purposes of this podcast, yes… SO: Well, since Hyde Street Pier is located on the edge of the San Francisco Bay, it has to be about the bridge. AM: Which bridge? SO: That’s a good point! You can see both the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge from our park when the weather’s good…. But very few visitors ask me first about the Bay Bridge. They want to know about the beautiful, bright orange gateway to the west-- the Golden Gate. AM: Given how foggy San Francisco can get, I usually get questions about when and if the fog will lift and if we can normally see the bridge. SO: Reality check -- not always! AM: But I love when people ask why it’s called the Golden Gate Bridge. SO: You do? AM: I do! Because I got it wrong the first time! I thought it had to do with the color of the bridge or the way it’s illuminated at sunset. SO: I thought that, too! But that’s not the case, right? AM: Nope! Though the color of the bridge--Golden Gate Bridge International Orange--is now so famous that it has its own color coordinates. The Golden Gate Bridge is actually named for the strait that it crosses--the Golden Gate! SO: Are you ready to have your mind blown even more? AM: Always.

[audio pause/music cue]

SO: So we have the Golden Gate Strait, right, and then the Bridge. I’m sure we’ve both heard of the Golden State Warriors. What else comes into your mind when you think of gold and San Francisco? AM: The Gold Rush! Is that how the strait got its name? [Mmmm.] Because it was the gate ships sailed through for people to reach the gold fields? SO: That’s certainly one way of seeing it. Or how people also got to see it. But believe it or not, no. The explorer John C. Fremont named the strait in 1846. That’s two years before gold was famously discovered in Northern California. AM: John C. Fremont...The “Pathfinder”? [Mhm] Besides being an educator, presidential candidate, one-time military governor of California, he was the United States explorer who led surveying expeditions to the west coast between 1838 and 1854, right? [Mhm] I’ve heard that his expeditions are responsible for the majority of the early federal mapping of the territory between the Mississippi River Valley and the Pacific Ocean. And his published reports certainly seemed to capture imaginations back east. SO: Yes! And speaking of east -- Fremont had an idea of something even farther “West” than Oregon or California. Considering their natural resources, considering their geography, Fremont saw the West Coast’s potential for trading with China and East India -- in other words, Asia, or what’s been traditionally viewed in Europe and America as “the East.” That brings us back to the naming of the strait.

[music cue]

SO: Fremont specifically said it’s “a golden gate to trade with the Orient.” But he didn’t just name it in plain English. AM: Of course not. SO: Nope. He used the Greek term “Chrysopylae”, which means just that: golden gate. He based it on the name of another famous harbor: the Chrysoceras in ancient Byzantium. Otherwise known as the Golden Horn of the Bosphorus strait in modern-day Istanbul. AM: Wow! SO: Yeah! And I’m going to go on and on here, because I find this whole concept of “Chrysos” and gold and their mythical connotations fascinating. And it seemed to be on Fremont’s mind too. Later, he supported the idea of a Pacific railroad connecting the east and west coasts. This was related to a vision of building up the U.S. as an economic power. Goods from Asia didn’t need to go through Europe to get to America. America would be at the center between Asia and Europe instead. [AM: Huh!] Here’s what he said to the newspaper National Intelligencer in 1854. With a railroad, to quote “the golden vein which runs through the history of the world, will follow the iron track to San Francisco, and the Asiatic trade will finally fall into its last and permanent road, when the ancient and the modern Chryse throw open their gates to the thoroughfare of the world.”

[audio pause/music cue]

AM: You’ve had too much time to read during shelter-in-place, haven’t you? SO: Well. Haven’t you? AM: Touché. I’ve tried to keep to historical texts, but the same event and person can be portrayed in so many different ways. It becomes so hard to tell what actually happened and what makes a tidy narrative. In fact, I’m guilty of sculpting a tidy narrative within this conversation. I talked about John C. Fremont’s heralded roles and the popularity he gained from his expeditions, but what about his infamy? SO: Hm Fremont supported the Bear Flag Republic, he was appointed military governor of California by Stockton and refused to give up the post when General Stephen Kearny arrived in California with orders from Washington to establish a government. Fremont was eventually arrested, sent to Washington, D.C., and between 1847 and 1848 was court-martialed for, quote, “mutiny, disobedience, and conduct prejudicial to military discipline”. SO: I don’t think that was a path he ever thought he would find himself on! AM: I certainly hope not! Of course, that isn’t the end of his story. President Polk set aside his penalty for court-martial and Fremont returned to California in time to profit from the Gold Rush. In 1850, he would go on to become one of the first two U.S. senators of California [Huh!]; lead an expedition into Utah Territory between 1853 and 1854, and even be nominated for the presidency in 1856! SO: And to bring his story back closer to home, in the 1860s, John and his wife, Jessie Benton Fremont, actually LIVED above the Golden Gate strait. [Wow!] In fact, they lived just above where our park is now, on the land by Muni Pier known then as Black Point. Jessie wrote with great fondness of this residence, saying that she loved it so much she “had joy even in the tolling of the fogbell”. AM: Which, if the fog was anything like it is today, must have been heard at any time of day or night! How long did the Fremonts live on their farm in Black Point? SO: Um, they got the property in about 1860, but by the end of 1863, the military took over Black Point to build more fortifications for the Civil War. This paved the way for Black Point becoming part of what is now Upper Fort Mason. AM: Black Point Cove, of course, would become known as Aquatic Park Cove in the 1930s, when the park was built around it. SO: My favorite topic! But, as much as I would love to say that Aquatic Park was the defining construction project of that decade, I can’t. [AM: Hm!] So many of San Francisco’s iconic structures were built then. Coit Tower. The Bay Bridge. And we come right back to the most iconic of all.

[audio pause/music cue]

AM: Construction for the Golden Gate Bridge began in 1933, but the idea was conceived as early as 1916. The City formally launched a feasibility study in 1919, and the 1920s then saw a lot of consulting, reviewing proposals, securing funds, getting permissions -- as well as earning support. Today, it’s easy to think that the Golden Gate Bridge was always just so popular and beloved, but there was quite the opposition. SO: Yeah! People were concerned it was too expensive, too risky, too undoable. AM: And people worried about what it might do. For example, we’ve mentioned the military presence along the coast. The Navy feared ships would crash into the bridge and block the bay’s entrance, or maybe enemies would sabotage the bridge. Ferry companies worried the bridge would harm their business -- and they were right. As we know from the history of Eureka in our park, [Mhm] both the Golden Gate and Bay bridges signaled the beginning of the end of ferries filling the bay. And there were groups that opposed the bridge, worried about environmental damage, or that the bridge would ruin the strait’s natural beauty. SO: Wait, wait. Speaking of natural beauty, earlier you mentioned that the bridge’s color, International Orange, has its own color coordinates. Can you go further into that color choice? AM: Absolutely! Color choice was definitely a big part of the planning process. See, up to that point, bridges tended to be black, gray, or silver. That would have been the conventional choice… and would have made the bridge disappear in the fog. The Navy wanted the bridge to be yellow and black [SO laughs] so it would be easier to see by passing ships. The Army Air Corps wanted it red and white to be noticeable from the air. SO: So, you’re saying we could have had the Candy Cane Bridge?! [AM laughs] Is that better than the Bumblebee Bridge? You know, the Silver Strait Bridge has a ring to it... AM: But the people, the locals, were having none of that grayscale business for this bridge. They wanted aesthetics to match the sea, the hills, the light. The towers had been built first; the primer painted on the steel was red; and they loved how the red looked. So they wrote as much to the consulting architect, Irving Morrow, who had noticed the red primer, and understood everyone’s concern. Morrow completely believed the bridge was going to be, quote, “one of the greatest monuments of all time.” He didn’t want the wrong color to undermine its form, size, or scale. Ultimately, Morrow chose what he then called orange vermillion, or red lead. As we can now see -- no matter if it’s a clear or foggy day -- this shade looks beautiful with the blue, green, and gray all around it. SO: So the name Golden Gate didn’t really figure in the color choice. Not that a literal golden bridge would have looked good. AM: No. But in the right light, like the strait itself, the bridge looks golden, anyway. SO: Literally and figuratively. Can I read from an old newspaper again? AM: Please do! SO: This is from the San Francisco Chronicle the day before the bridge opened in 1937. There were city-wide celebrations, and the writer describes all that excitement: bands, parades, dancing, singing, souvenir hawking, fiesta and fireworks way into the evening. Then he closes with these lines:

“And out at the Golden Gate, that huge and beautiful thing stood alone and dreamed. Dreamed and hummed strange melodies to herself, sang strange songs to the darkening waters of the Golden Gate, to the green-clad hills of old Marin. Held mystic conversation with the gulls about her head, those gulls that were there when Vizcaino came, when Drake sailed past, when De Ayala danced through the Gate in the tiny San Carlos. Alone, and for the last time, she dreamed, that glowing, vibrant thing of beauty and strength. Like a bride she was on her marriage eve. Today the Golden Gate Bridge will begin to live.” (SF Chronicle, May 27, 1937) AM: I don’t know what else John Fremont was thinking when he named the strait, but if you ask me, all that romanticism fits right in with a name like “Chrysopylae.” SO: It certainly paints a pretty picture. I don’t know though if personifying the Golden Gate as a bride who will only begin to live once married would fly today… AM: That’s true! So much of our job is turning today’s lens on the history we can see in the objects, places, and people that make up our park. I don’t know about you, but this conversation has brought so many more questions to my mind. SO: Like, how many people took advantage of Fremont’s golden vein? AM: And did the Golden Gate really hold the key to better lives? SO: Who really made money in the Gold Rush? AM: How did San Francisco care for all of these hopefuls? SO: How did it fail? AM: All these questions spring from the idea of a golden land, of greater opportunity on the other side of a journey, and there are so many topics in the history of San Francisco and its waterfront that we can look at through this lens. SO: Absolutely! But I hope, looking through today’s lens, we’re not just going to discover that when people look at the golden gate, they see their dream of a better life reflected back as a bitter lie. AM: I think it’s safe to say that nothing is black and white. That’s why we should keep revisiting the myths! SO: Nothing is black and white...just shades of international orange. AM: [Laughs] aaaaand we’ve found our way back to the Golden Gate. SO: Well. People. Always. Do. For my final newspaper excerpt for today -- AM: Promise? SO: I promise. 26.2 million people visited San Francisco in 2019. Even if only a quarter of them were international tourists -- I can’t even begin to imagine how many of them came here just to see the bridge. AM: And Alcatraz! Imagine if we started talking about visitors asking “How do we get to Alcatraz?” SO: [Laughs} Do they really want to know? AM: Come to think of it, we could probably have a whole historical analysis related to “Where’s the bathroom?” SO: Oh no. AM: Oh yes. SO: Well, you can save that for another episode. AM: You got it!

**audio break**

AM: You’ve just gotten a glimpse into a new project we’re excited to bring to your virtual park. “Better Lives, Bitter Lies” is a podcast series focusing on the role of propaganda, trickery, and misinformation in bringing people to the San Francisco Bay in search of better lives since 1849. These discussions are not meant to be comprehensive pictures of historical events, but rather to spark curiosity, discussion, and further exploration. Keep an eye out for our next episode!

**outro music**

Episode music: “Turning to You” and “When We Set Out” by Blue Dot Sessions. Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC.

San Francisco’s fabled strait was so named two years before gold was discovered in Northern California. How did it get the name “Golden Gate?”