8.12.2 Chinese women and children at immigration station
View of women and children seated on benches at the immigration station on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay.
Although there were about 20 times as many Chinese men than women who immigrated to the United States, we see in this photograph some of the women and their children who did make the long journey. They did not know the English language and had the added challenge of fitting into local Chinese communities that had for decades been made up almost entirely of men. What strikes you about this photograph? What is the age range, and what influence do you think these females will have on their Chinese American communities and the broader American society?
While it was much more common for Chinese men to immigrate than women, there were those who made the trek to California, where they came through the immigration station at Angel Island like we see in this photograph. Married Chinese women were often expected to stay in China and work the farm and take care of in-laws and children. Because there were so many fewer women than men, the US-born Chinese American population was slow to grow through natural increase, except in Hawaii where sugarcane business owners recruited Chinese men and women to work in the fields. The women in this photograph, who arrived after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, were likely the wives of Chinese merchants and other middle-class immigrants.