The Chinese in Portland

Portland’s first record of Chinese residents was in 1850, when two Chinese men were living in the city. Immigrants trickled into Portland through the 1850s and early 1860s. Chinese immigration to Portland increased dramatically in 1864, when the city’s Chinese population grew from 87 to 200. The Chinese population grew ever more quickly, to 1700 Chinese in 1880, 4400 in 1890, and 7800 in 1900.

A major factor for the large increase of the Chinese population in the 1880’s was the expulsion of Chinese from Seattle and Tacoma. Chinese all over the West Coast were often discriminated against, for a variety of reasons. Chinese were seen as taking jobs away from Americans, and as driving down wages, as many Chinese were willing to work for less than Americans. They were also seen as a drain on society, rather than an integral part of the American populace, as many had plans to take all their money home to China, though they rarely accomplished this. And Chinese were often thought to be an "amoral stain" on the community, with their brothels, opium dens, and different religious beliefs. Chinese were met with discrimination and sometimes violence in the workplace and in the community at large. In 1886, prompted by a severe economic depression, Chinese were expelled from Seattle and Tacoma, and many came to Portland. Though there was still much anti-Chinese sentiment among Portlanders, they had not yet opted for total expulsion.

Following the expulsions to the north, many vigilantes in Portland pushed for the expulsion of Chinese. Chinese were evicted from the adjacent communities of Mount Tabor, Albina, and Oregon City in February of 1886. But in Portland, businessmen and the aristocracy prevented this action, as they were dependent on cheap Chinese labor. Chinese continued to face discrimination, organized groups whose main purpose was to harass Chinese, and occasional killings and burnings of houses. But the Chinese, perhaps accustomed to hardship after fleeing the chaos in their homeland, resisted and continued to make a living in Portland.

As in most Chinesesettlements in the West, Portland’s Chinese mostly lived in a Chinatown ghetto, isolated both because of discrimination and by their own desire to live in a Chinese community. Portland’s Chinatown was not originally where today’s Chinatown is: it was located mainly between Ash on the north, Salmon on the south, Third on the west, and the Willamette on the east. Major sources of employment for Chinese in Portland were the salmon canneries, Chinese laundries, railroad building, the iron industry, papermaking, the textile industry, servant jobs, and public works such as canal and road building.

A history of Chinese Immigration to Oregon
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