Chinese Migration And Labor Conditions

The sojourners - the first immigrants to California in the mid-1800's primarily from China's southeastern area - came in search of "Gold Mountain," the mythical land of wealth known as "Gam Saan" in Cantonese. Instead, they endured hostility and extreme hardship while performing the difficult, dangerous labor of railroad construction. To link the nation by rail, these immigrants worked in winter snow and summer heat, sometimes being lowered in baskets down sheer mountain faces to carve passages from hard rock. Other sojourners found work in California's abundant agricultural fields, picking oranges, mulberries, and other produce. Still other sojourners were part of the gold rush in the Sierra Nevada, working in mines, doing laundry, and sometimes supplementing their meager incomes through gambling. This initial wave of immigration lasted almost one hundred years, stretching from the time that California was still part of Mexico until well past the global Depression of the 1930's. Despite their invaluable contribution to California's economy and the nation's railroad system, the sojourners faced anti-immigration legislation as well as outright fear and hatred from surrounding communities.

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