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Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the…

Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the Coolie Era…

by Elliott Young

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In Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the Coolie Era through World War II, Elliot Young writes, “Unlike the national map, which imagines itself as static and timeless, the diasporic migrant mapping I propose is always transient, shifting, and unstable.” This leads Young to use the framework of Greater North America rather than to focus on traditional borders in order to track the movements of people. Young develops a “hemispheric and global” frame, arguing, “From this hemispheric perspective, a web of Chinese migrant pathways comes into focus rather than a line from point A in China to point B in the Americas.” As for the validity of borders, Young’s example of United States and Canadian officials fighting to deport Chinese migrants to each other’s countries demonstrates how even border agents recognized that border law, complex as it was, was not up to the task at hand. Young writes, “The bodies of Chinese being pushed back and forth across the border suggests the liminal position of Chinese as aliens in the Americas. The issue was not where to deport the Chinese but who would be responsible for paying the cost of deporting them back to China.” For historians studying migration, this demonstrates the necessity of a multinational approach or, to take things a step further, the creation of an intellectual framework akin to that Young developed. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Dec 20, 2016 |
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In this sweeping work, Elliott Young traces the pivotal century of Chinese migration to the Americas, beginning with the 1840s at the start of the "coolie" trade and ending during World War II. The Chinese came as laborers, streaming across borders legally and illegally and working jobs few others wanted, from constructing railroads in California to harvesting sugar cane in Cuba. Though nations were built in part from their labor, Young argues that they were the first group of migrants to bear the stigma of being "alien." Being neither black nor white and existing outside of the nineteenth century Western norms of sexuality and gender, the Chinese were viewed as permanent outsiders, culturally and legally. It was their presence that hastened the creation of immigration bureaucracies charged with capture, imprisonment, and deportation.This book is the first transnational history of Chinese migration to the Americas. By focusing on the fluidity and complexity of border crossings throughout the Western Hemisphere, Young shows us how Chinese migrants constructed alternative communities and identities through these transnational pathways.… (more)

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