By George R. Vincent, Co-founder Pinole Historical Society
The history of the Chinese in North America did not begin with the building of the transcontinental railroads; it began 100 years earlier.
Many sea captains in the late 1700s had Chinese servants, and they remained as house servants when their bosses settled ashore.
The largest influx of Chinese to this country was during the California Gold Rush. Chinese miners traveled usually as indentured servants to San Francisco and then to the gold fields. Their objective was to make their fortunes and return home.
However, many also came to stay, farming and fishing as they had in China. Large numbers were employed in low-paying manual labor work such as building railroads and Delta levies. As the railroad progressed, Chinese settlements grew along its route and remained there.
Although the Irish were the largest minority in California, the Chinese were more visible in numbers and dress and became the targets of discrimination and more restrictive laws and taxes. For example, the Foreign Miners’ Tax was enacted to supposedly end unfair job competition from the Chinese. Yet, the truth was the Anglo population would not work for lower wages, as did the Chinese. The racial component surfaced as the source of bigotry and conflict.