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Chinese and Japanese in North America: The Canadian and American Experiences Compared Roger Daniels This essay examines two streams of migrants to North America: one from China and one from Japan. While this conflation may outrage some nationalistic historians on both sides of the border, it is certainly justified from the point of view of the migrants who, for a long time, largely ignored the international boundary. It was notorious for decades in the Pacific Northwest that the four chief Chinese communities near the border- Port Townsend and Port Angeles in Washington State and Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia-did a thriving business in goods and persons with little regard to the law that made the southern and northern shores of Juan de Fuca Strait parts of separate nations. Moreover, ifthe strait itselfor the docks and piers on either side of it were too heavily patroled, there was always the convenient chain of San Juan Islands or, on the mainland, miles of unguarded common frontier.1 For Japanese migrants, too, the border wasnot a great inconvenience. The reminiscences of one Japanese pioneer illustrate the point nicely.Kihachi Hirakawa, a twenty-six year old bachelor, took advantage of an 1890rate war between Yokohama ticket agencies which cut fares from fifty to twenty-five yen, to come to "America." He found out about the opportunity just three days before the ship's departure, which was not enough time to get a passport. A ship's officer told him: "A passport was not necessary, and if I paid my fare I would be accepted. Then I asked if I could land without a passport at Vancouver, B.C., and the officer replied, 'Maybe ... but I am not sure."' Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 17, Number 2, Summer 1986,173-187 174 Roger Daniels Hirakawa, gambling that he could get in, borrowed forty yen, bought the ticket and a second-hand suit, and changed his remaining ten yen into $8.90 (U.S.). After a fifteen-day journey, during which he was so seasick that he could eat only on the first two days, his ship, the British steamer Abyssinia (3,250tons), arrived in Vancouver. Stillconcerned about the lack of a passport and so sick that he had to be helped down the gangplank, he encountered no problems in entering Canada. After resting two days in a hotel, he nervously began the last leg of his trip to Seattle on 11August 1890: "A few customs house officials boarded our boat from a small boat to examine our baggage. Again I was concerned about the lack of a passport [but] they merely made a brief inspection .... The next morning our boat docked at the port of Seattle. Thus I easily entered the United States." 2 Hirakawa, whose migratory experience was not atypical, would make four more trans-Pacific voyages before settling, for good, on Bainbridge Island, just off Seattle. There was even some confusion about the border of "America" to the far south. I have read one life history of a Japanese immigrant to Mexico which describes, withsome chagrin, his arrival in 1907armed with a Japanese-English dictionary that was all but useless, and how it took him six months to procure a Japanese-Spanish dictionary from Tokyo.3 The cultures of the United States and Mexico were so different, however, that each immigrant group quickly learned to differentiate them. Most Chinese and Japanese migrants in Mexico would have preferred to be north of the Rio Grande: traffic, legal and illegal, was largely one-way. Between the United States and Canada there was-and continues to be-two-way traffic. The two countries remain almost equally desirable goals for migrants from Asia: given equal opportunity the choice may wellbe idiosyncratic. One French-educated Chinese physician who had such a choice in 1949chose New York over Montreal because he feared that immigration to Canada would somehow involve taking an oath of allegiance to a descendant of Queen Victoria, something abhorrent to him because Victoria had forced opium on China a century before and the drug had been ruinous to some members of his gentry family.4 Hirakawa and Dr. Li were not typical migrants...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 173-187
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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