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menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

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The United States Bars Chinese Immigrants (with text supports)

The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed on May 6, 1882, was the first major restriction placed on immigration in the U.S., and the only immigration law that explicitly barred a specific group from entering the country. The Exclusion Act forbade Chinese [...]

The Poetry of Chinese Immigration

In this activity students read poems written by Chinese immigrants to understand the hopes of and challenges faced by Chinese immigrants during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Then students write an original poem about the Chinese [...]

A 49er Writes Home from the Gold Rush (with text supports)

Many miners wrote letters home to family and friends describing their experiences in California. In this letter, Robert Pitkin describes the tensions between American-born and Chinese immigrant miners.

"Colored Men in the Mines" (with text supports)

Though discriminated against in California, African-American miners often shared the same prejudices as white Americans towards Chinese immigrants. At other times, immigrants and African Americans found common purpose in work and leisure. This [...]

Background Essay on San Francisco's Chinatown (short version, with text supports)

This essay describes the origins of San Francisco's Chinatown, as well as some of its major economic, political, and social features. The essay also describes the challenges San Francisco's Chinese community faced from the city's white politicians [...]

Diners Describe the first Chinese Restaurants in America (with text supports)

The first Chinese restaurants in America sprang up in 1850s California and catered to Cantonese miners and railroad laborers. Known as "chow chows" (Chinese slang for anything edible), they were identified by yellow triangle signs. By the 1880s San [...]

The Theater Draws Immigrants and Tourists to Chinatown (with text supports)

During the 1870s and 1880s, San Francisco's Chinatown included as many as four theater companies that regularly performed Chinese operas and other entertainment. Tickets to evening performances usually cost 20-25 cents for Chinese (50 cents for [...]

Anti-Chinese Prejudice and the "Six Companies" (with text supports)

The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of San Francisco (commonly known as "the Six Companies") was an organization of regional- and family-based self-help societies in Chinatown. They helped to get new immigrants housing, food, and jobs. [...]

A Chinese American Describes Going to School in Chinatown (with text supports)

San Francisco's first public school for Chinese immigrants, known first as the Chinese School and then as the Oriental School, began operating in 1859. The school was designed to segregate (separate) Chinese children from white children in the [...]

A Chinese Immigrant Tells of Labor in a New Land (shortened, with text supports)

Since their arrival in the United States in the 1850s, Chinese immigrants confronted social, political, and economic discrimination. Many Americans believed that the Chinese posed a threat to white workers and should not be eligible for citizenship. [...]