At this point, I want to briefly segue to a different story that paves the way for multiple re-readings of the story typically told about gold farmers.
People came to become what they could not become elsewhere - heroes and millionaires. The early, undeveloped economy caused many inconveniences. Certain common tasks required a great deal of time to complete. Many Chinese workers took advantage of this entrepreneurial opportunity by providing a service that dramatically enhanced the quality of life. Providing this service was no trivial task, but involved tedious repetition, painstaking attention to detail, and often consumed most of their waking hours in a small room in front of the same machine. Nevertheless, their hard work did pay off. Some became wealthy and soon the Chinese referred to this place as the Gold Mountain. Yet their frugal industriousness incited others, particularly the Westerners who had arrived earlier. This triggered a period of systematic abuse and humiliation targeting the Chinese. Legal constraints were created in an attempt to put these Chinese workers out of work. Individual Chinese workers were harassed and sometimes physically assaulted. Mob lynching followed and massacres have been documented.
This story sounds incredibly familiar, but the year is 1870 and I am, of course, talking about the genesis of the Chinese laundry shops ("yi-shan-guan") during and after the California Gold Rush. During the Gold Rush, dirty laundry was routinely shipped to Hong Kong (among other Asian cities) partly because laundry was seen as demeaning domestic work that burly beardy miners should not perform. The turn-around time for this process was 4 months. Immigrant Chinese workers took advantage of this opportunity. The Chinese laundry business, as it bloomed, was suddenly seem as a threat by Americans. Laws were enacted in 1870 that tried to cripple Chinese laundry businesses (as well as preventing the Chinese from gaining US citizenship - which effectively barred them from voting). Documented mob lynching and pillaging of Chinatowns occurred in 1871 and 1877 (See "The Chinese in America" by Iris Chang, 2003, for more on this topic).
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