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Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans Hardcover – May 29, 2007
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Pfaelzer, professor of American studies, reveals one of the most disgraceful chapters in American history--the purging of thousands of Chinese immigrants in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain region between 1850 and 1906. Drawing on newspaper accounts, diaries, legal pleadings, and photographs, Pfaelzer retells the story of the horrific purge of the Chinese. Testifying in their own words, Chinese businessmen recall being driven out of their shops, while women tell of being forced into prostitution; they were driven from gold mines, orchards, and small towns in the booming West. The Chinese responded with defenses from boycotts to lawsuits asking for reparations, challenges to police harassment, shipments of arms from China, and pressure on the Chinese government to intervene. Pfaelzer also catalogs the racist images of docile and dirty Chinese subject to lynchings, night raids, murder, expulsion, and deportation. She compares the expulsions to those in Nazi Germany, as well as modern Rwanda and Bosnia, and puts the Driven Out campaign into the broader context of American racism. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Jean Pfaelzer, who is a professor of English and American studies at the University of Delaware, has written a comprehensive and gripping account of the "ethic cleansing" of the Chinese residing in California and the Pacific Northwest. Since I was born and still live in the Pacific Northwest, this detailed narrative about the barbaric treatment of a group of fellow human beings who either came here voluntarily or were forced to come here to work on the railroads, in the mines, in the fields, and elsewhere, is especially disturbing. Indeed, the little town where I currently reside along the Oregon coast is mentioned in Pfaelzer's book, although no mention is made of any specific anti-Chinese incidents occurring here. That point aside, it is certainly about time for this story to be told in depth and Pfaelzer does just that extremely well.
The story begins in the 1840s and continues into the early twentieth century. Thousands of Chinese laborers and merchants, prostitutes and merchants' wives, were rounded up at gunpoint and marched out of towns and other locations all over the Pacific coastal areas of California, Oregon, and Washington, from Seattle to Los Angeles and even beyond. The Chinese were subjected to many cruelties: most were banished outright from their homes; young Chinese prostitutes were unjustly accused of spreading syphilis among the "fine" young White men of the community; the government tried to force the Chinese to wear photo-ID cards. Some were forced onto ships to be delivered elsewhere, including back to China; some were thrown into railroad cars to be transported anywhere; some did not go willingly and were killed or were burned to death in the fires, mostly set by local Whites, which destroyed the Chinatowns which had sprung up in many places.
But this is not just the story of the victimization of the Chinese population in the West. This is also the story of how the Chinese bravely fought back: "They filed the first lawsuits for reparations in the United States, sued for the restoration of their property, prosecuted white vigilantes, demanded the right to own land, and, years before Brown v. Board of Education, won access to public education for their children. Chinese Americans organized strikes and vegetable boycotts in order to starve out towns that tried to expel them. They ordered arms from China and, with Winchester rifles and Colt revolvers, defended themselves." It is a story which includes many heroes, as well as too many villains. It is a story of proud Chinese men who wouldn't back down, and the story of too many corrupt politicians and lawmen without any sense of morality. It is a story both sad and disconcerting, but also a supremely human story well worth reading.
While the injustices related in Pfaelzer's book may be (and should be) disturbing to readers, a few caveats are probably necessary to prevent what I call the "blame and guilt" crowd from using her book to advance a skewed view of historical responsibility. This entire period and the terrible incidents that occurred within it must be observed and analyzed with some realistic perspective. It is all too easy -- and all too common these days -- to use the material included in a book such as this one to initiate and conduct a campaign which promotes anti-Americanism (the "hate America" movements) or the "White-man's Guilt" syndrome.
First, when it comes to racial and religious discrimination, or pogroms against or purges of hated groups, or roundups, expulsions, or imprisonment of persons considered less than human, America never has been and is not today the major player on the stage of world history. Consider the atrocities committed in the past 100 years by the likes of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Hideki Tojo, Slobodan Milosevic, or Pol Pot; furthermore, consider the contemporary scene in Africa, particularly the genocide in Darfur or in Rwanda or elsewhere on that continent. America may have many shortcomings in its past regarding racial discrimination and violence -- and Pfaelzer's book provides just one example among others -- but it is necessary to keep things in perspective; although it is impossible to offer an excuse for or justification of such horrific behavior, we can try to understand it and the context in which it occurs in order to prevent it from happening in the future.
Second, it is important to note that European (or American) White males are not alone in committing terrible deeds in the past or present for which the term "guilt" is appropriate. Moreover, "guilt" as such falls only on individuals, not groups. If one truly subscribes to the "sins of the fathers" notion, then there is no one free of "historical guilt" all the way back to the first human beings. And that notion is nonsense, not to mention unproductive. Pfaelzer's book tells the story of a horrible chapter in American history which has been largely ignored. Rather than use the information she provides as the basis for a condemnation of America or the promotion of "White Guilt," we need to learn from it and use it to make certain that such things do not happen again. I realize this is probably overly optimistic, but without some genuine commitment to treating all human beings with dignity and respect, we won't even move toward that goal.
Jean Pfaelzer has made an enormous contribution to American history by drawing back the curtain which had veiled an important series of events, albeit shameful and abominable, which is part of our recent past. The book is well researched and the author documents her account with over thirty pages of useful notes. She also provides a detailed topical index, as well as a map of the "roundups" in California and many illustrations and photographs. To all readers, not just those interested in American history, I highly recommend this work.
Today, it is nearly unheard of to write a nonfiction book and stay on topic. Nearly all allegedly nonfiction authors contaminate their work with large doses of their personal political opinions. Most of those opinions reveal a myopic understanding of the topic on which the author is opinionating.
Pfaelzer's editorial integrity is especially noteworthy because this book is directly relevant to the hot button political (non)issue of immigration, but the author doesn't impose her political view.
I enjoyed reading a book that breaks the current trend of writing in Pidgin English. Whether such writing is done to obfuscate or done out of ignorance, I don't know. Either way, this common practice of saddling the text with confusing errors in grammar, composition, and word choices is annoying. Pfaelzer is a professor of English (and of East Asian History and of American Studies), so perhaps she felt obligated to break from the herd on this issue.
If this book had errors of fact, I didn't catch them. I'm not sure that this characteristic (free of errors of fact) is normal, either.
What it's about
Driven Out addresses the atrocities committed against Chinese people who were living and working on the American west coast (mostly California) at a particular time. That time was the half-century or so between the post-Civil War reconstruction era and the first part of the Twentieth Century.
The same psychodrama plays out today as then, except today "we" hate Mexicans instead of the Chinese. The hatred for (and fear of) the Chinese was predicated on a zero sum game mentality and an ignorance of economic realities. The time, energy, and money spent trying to eradicate the "threat" of peaceful and productive Chinese-Americans would have solved existing problems if applied to those problems rather than diverted to such irrational purposes.
Bigotry is a delusion-inducing poison, so in that sense we are reading a story that constantly repeats itself. The richness of detail in Driven Out allows us to see the particular ways in which bigotry played out in this particular time and place.
Pfaelzer took great pains to thoroughly research events, sort through the facts, and reconstruct what happened. Her method is one of first providing a macro view and then providing a detailed accounting of the subsequent events. For example, she talks about the Eureka method (named after the town of Eureka) in Chapter 4 and explains what it was about. Then, she goes into specific events that occurred as part of putting the Eureka method into practice. Pfaelzer shows the rationalizations that people used to justify their reprehensible behavior.
Eureka was just one of many towns that embarked on a vicious and insane program of forcing the Chinese to leave. In Chapter 5, Pfaelzer uses the same approach to reveal the Tuckee method and the atrocities committed there.
The violence to persons and property nearly always had a veneer of legitimacy. Today, we are all familiar with how IRS employees generally view taxpayers as subhuman scum who are "deserving of whatever they get." This attitude allows those employees to justify all sorts of abuses. This is the kind of "thinking" that occupied the minds of public officials of that era, as well. Rather than uphold the law, they used the power of their position to engage in psychopathic cruelties to other human beings.
It's worth noting that Pfaelzer provided anecdotes about the difficulty of locating records and talked about how some records were destroyed.
A well-written, thoroughly researched, eye-opening book. It's definitely a "must read."
Reviewer's Commentary: The Value of the History Provided by Driven Out
Unless we learn from history, we repeat it. To learn from history, we must first learn the history itself. An understanding of these particular events would be instructive for our times. Then, as today, the newspapers were instruments of disinformation and more concerned with making the news than reporting it. Back then, the "news" was that immigrants were the reason for job loss. Does this sound familiar?
Today, our mainstream media misdirect attention away from solving the core problems that are laying waste to our society. Back then, the misdirection had a similar effect (preventing attention to the right things), but for a different set of problems. In both eras, we see a few "boogeyman" non-issues (e.g., immigration). While Congress continues to spend inordinate amounts of time mishandling non-issues, they ignore real issues.
Any well-informed reader will not be surprised by the legal maneuvering, dishonesty, and hypocrisy of the people who held the reigns of power at that time, because this is what we get from our lawmakers and bureaucrats today.
What may shock some readers is the extent of the brazen violence rained down upon the Chinese, who were simply minding their own business. For example, the book talks about an incident where people's homes were set on fire and then those people were shot while trying to escape the flames. Those who perpetrated this evil were not prosecuted. One was even appointed later to a high position in law enforcement. History repeated itself in 1993 in Waco, TX, and those killers are free today.
Driven Out provides the reader with insight into a series of shameful events in US history. The inhuman actions were abetted by corrupt government employees, spineless judges, and apathetic elected officials. The behavior spanned across multiple generations for reasons that defy logic. And yet, history repeats itself. The horrific story that unfolds on these pages holds many parallels to events in our own times--also abetted by corrupt government employees, spineless judges, and apathetic elected officials.
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