Migration Essay

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The 1840s and 1850s marked the beginning of Asian immigration to the United States, starting with the arrival of Chinese in Hawaii and on the mainland West Coast. Initially, laborers found work on the sugar plantations and in the gold mines, and later supplied much of the manual labor for the building of the western leg of the transcontinental railway. By the turn of the twentieth century, the same employment opportunities began to draw increasing numbers of immigrants from other parts of Asia, including Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and India. However, successive waves of Asian immigration tended to create corresponding waves of anti-Asian sentiment. Labor leaders, temperance activists, and agricultural interests pressed the government to react to the perceived threats that Asians were thought to represent to employment (e.g., wage deflation), morality (e.g., opium use), and hygiene (e.g., prostitution). This agitation was met with increasingly restrictive immigration and naturalization policies that slowed Asian immigration to a trickle throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The liberalization of immigration policy following World War II brought with it a new wave of Asian immigration. Whereas Asian Americans represented less than one half of 1% of the U.S. population in 1940, by 1990 they made up nearly 3%, or 7 million, and by 2005, the Asian American population had grown dramatically to 14.4 million, or 5% (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). However, Asian Americans are not a homogeneous community. On the contrary, they represent a very diverse population, with regionally and culturally specific language, dialects, traditions, and beliefs. Moreover, each cultural group was drawn (or pushed) to the United States by different motives. Most early immigrants—whether Chinese, Japanese, or Filipino, for example—sought employment as unskilled labor. By the

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