Thursday, December 1, 2011

book review - Driven Out

Driven Out: the Forgotten War Against Chinese-Americans by Jean Pfaelzer

I don't normally choose books from the American history side of the library aisle, but nothing on the Africa or Asia shelves was catching my eye, so I picked this one up. I am very glad I did. I knew some of the history of Chinese Americans in the United States, but had no idea of the extent of the hatred and violence that was perpetrated against this particular group of people in the 1880s. Pfaelzer gives a detailed explanation of the motivations and specific actions taken against Chinese immigrants, especially in California, and takes a brutally honest look at the repercussions that still echo today.

This book made me angry and disgusted. I generally read while on the treadmill and my heartrate went higher than normal more than once while reading this book. It really brought home to me the fact that people may talk about life "in the good old days" but for many MANY people, the opposite is true. In fact, from what I can tell, it seems that being anything but rich, white, and male meant little to no justice would come your way until the later 20th century. Did you know that while the enslavement of African-Americans was made illegal in 1863, Chinese women were openly sold on the streets of San Francisco well into the 1890s? Did you know that despite mob violence that drove out thousands of Chinese sometimes overnight, little to no damages were ever paid to the people that lost their homes, lives, and property? And did you know that Chinese immigration into the United States was prohibited until 1943, in a deliberate effort to keep the Chinese people from becoming part of American life (and it was only lifted then because the US government hoped to use the Chinese to help fight against the Japanese during World War II).

This book is amazing, powerful, desperately sad, and angry. It is one of the most powerful historical books I have ever read and I would highly recommend it.

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