Treating people of color like they aren’t American is nothing new. Neither are illegal raids looking for undocumented immigrants. Today we’re visiting the turn of the last century, another time when the immigration debate was heating up.
In 1903, immigrants from Asia were the big scaries, and the US government was passing laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) to keep them out. Chinese and Chinese Americans were settling in Boston, near the city’s bus terminal. The neighborhood they built was called Chinatown.
A murder within the community brought more attention than usual to Chinatown. The police and Immigration Bureau say this as a perfect opportunity to conduct a raid because most Chinatown residents and a lot of Chinese from outside the city went to the funeral in the morning, then came back to the neighborhood to hang out that night. The police and immigration officials busted through the neighborhood, arresting anyone who couldn’t produce their papers immediately, including people who had left them at home and American born citizens.
It’s a pretty ridiculous incident, and part of a pattern of police intimidation and disregard for the laws they are employed to defend. And yet, we didn’t talk about it at all in my Asian American Studies classes. Maybe because so much of AsianAm is West Coast centric. For more on the raid, check out this article from Amerasia journal’s vol. 22, num. 3– The Eagle Seeks a Helpless Quarry, by K. Scott Wong.