This dissertation examines the historic relationship between race, labor, and immigration in the United States, by looking at the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century cultural attitudes that surrounded domestic service. Domesticity, and the civilized values that a well-managed and functional domestic space purportedly cultivated, caused the American middle class - and women in particular - to take an active role in immigration debates. By 1850, magazines, cartoons, and novels had begun to popularize the stereotype of "Biddy" (a nickname for Bridget) in order to capture the ignorance and insubordination that employers felt characterized Irish domestic labor. With the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, many middle class families concluded that the solution to the crisis posed by Biddy was to bring Chinese immigrants from California to the East Coast. As numerous authors proclaimed, racially Chinese men belonged to a docile and emasculated "third sex," and, unlike violent and masculine Irish women who failed to recognize their subservient status, could be easily managed as workers.
Even after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, many middle class Americans continued to praise Chinese servants as unassailably loyal and dedicated employees whose racial qualities made them indispensible to the occupation. By putting the home at the center of the potential impact of exclusionary legislation, middle class Americans sought to privilege their own vision of how racialized labor could be used to benefit the nation.
The final portion of this dissertation explores the history of the "Columbus refugees," Chinese laborers living in Mexico who were allowed to enter the United States in 1917 after working with the Punitive Expeditions of the US Army during its attempt to track down Francisco "Pancho" Villa. The Department of Labor granted the Columbus refugees a special exemption from the Exclusion Act and assigned them to work as cooks and servants on military bases in the American Southwest, which military officials claimed took advantage of their racial attributes. This dissertation concludes by arguing that the belief that immigrants are naturally predisposed to work in servile roles persists, and continues to inform how contemporary Americans think about immigration policy today.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2009. Major: History. Advisors: Donna Gabaccia and Erika Lee. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 344 pages.
Urban, Andrew Theodore.
An intimate world: race, migration, and Chinese and Irish domestic servants in the United States, 1850-1920..
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