Chinese Immigrants in the West

I didn’t do a post about it earlier, but my final article based on research done during my time in Park City, Utah was published a couple of weeks ago. Unexpectedly, this was the most contentious topic I wrote on during my time there. The truth is, like many other places in the Western United States, Chinese immigrants were treated very poorly in Park City.

There is a lot more research I have compiled, and I’ve been slowly working on a paper about Joss Houses, but I will say right now that Chinese immigrants have never gotten their due in industrial American history. The scope of the odds stacked against them is still not generally understood, and deserves more publication. In the mean time, I direct people to Iris Chang’s The Chinese in America.

This particular article was in response to the belief that Chinese laborers never worked below ground in Summit County, and that isn’t true. Read the article, and if you want more information, feel free to email me. I love, love, love talking the labor history of Utah (though I must admit I am far from well-educated in it) now that I spent four months researching nothing but.

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The author standing outside Evanston, Wyoming’s Joss House. Photo by Bjorn Severtson, June 2015

On the trip back home to Milwaukee, we were able to stop in Evanston, WY which has preserved its Joss House and a garden. There has also been some archaeology done on the site of the historic Chinatown, providing valuable information on the Chinese residents of Wyoming. However, much like Park City’s Chinatown/Swedish neighborhood-turned-parking-lot, many of the Western towns we stopped in had preserved sites used by white residents and either built over or demolished Chinese neighborhoods.

The most poignant example for me was Deadwood, SD. I am not sure what I expected, but Deadwood is more touristy than even Park City, where gambling is illegal. There are probably more slot machines than permanent residents, and the main drag has been reimagined in full technicolor. Plaques mark historic bars, and nonhistoric buildings claim all the names made famous by the television show based on the town’s history.

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An historic site on the main drag in Deadwood, SD. June 2015

The walk down the slope and into town from our casino-motel took us past an empty lot sprinkled with beer cans and plastic cups. A plaque near the sidewalk helpfully identified this as the site of Chinatown. Unfortunately, we did not get to visit the museums, but I wonder just how many artifacts of minority life in Deadwood failed to make it into the collections.

Just a final note: we tried to have a glass of whisky in the bar where Wild Bill Hicock was shot, but were told they served only Budweiser and some sort of chocolate liqueur shots. I’m sure this has something to do with the zoning or licensing, but it was a disappointment on top of many others that night.

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The author in the Chinese Garden in Evanston, Wyoming. Photo by Bjorn Severtson, June 2015

J.M.

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5 thoughts on “Chinese Immigrants in the West

  1. interesting you went to deadwood. several years ago, hbo had a show called “deadwood” and was about that town. the show ran for a couple of seasons. in many of the episodes the Chinese played a big role. it was not a very positive tole, but none the less they were depicted.

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  2. This is the 150 year old statue of Kwan Yin that is being donated to the Lytton joss house reconstruction:

    The joss house site has just been recognized as an important Chinese historical site by the govt. of British Columbia

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