Embracing Isolation: Chinese American Migration to Small-Town America, 1882-1943

Susan B. Carter, University of California, Riverside

This paper develops new, systematic population data on Chinese Americans during the Exclusion Era. I use them to document an incomparable geographic dispersal of Chinese Americans in the decades following Exclusion as they moved out of mining camps and into cities and small towns in every region of the country. Their wide dispersion, coupled with their small numbers, meant that many Chinese Americans lived an isolated existence, often as the only member of their race in the community. To explain these patterns I develop a model of locational and occupational decisions that emphasizes the unique constraints and opportunities Chinese Americans faced. Their chief constraint was practical exclusion from many attractive occupations; their chief opportunity was access to credit and to an elastic supply of low wage labor. Laundry and restaurant work were more attractive to them than to others. They moved to places where these services were in demand.

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Presented in Poster Session 7