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The California Gold Rush of the 19th century led many Chinese to believe that they would be able to strike it rich at what was being called the "Golden Mountain" (Kum Sahng). Unfortunately, most of the immigrants saw their dreams of striking it rich dashed when they made it to the United States and ended up working as low-paid labourers, mostly in the wool mills, garment manufacturing, mining facilities, and, of course, the Transcontinental Railroad. By 1880, approximately 25% of California's workforce was of Chinese descent.

So what did my people get in return for all of this help? The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which pretty much halted any further immigration of Chinese persons into the country and denied any Chinese already in the US the right to citizenship. This was the first time that a law was passed to prevent a specific ethnic group from entering the country. Canada wasn't much better as a $500 head tax (plenty of money at a time when the typical worker made around $4 a week) was imposed on each Chinese person looking to enter the country.

The law was repealed in 1943 and the Chinese population has since thrived tremendously in all walks of life and industry within the country. Most people don't speak much of the "Golden Mountain" now but more on a topic that everybody else knows about - "Silicon Valley".

Several years ago, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) produced an excellent documentary detailing the history of the Chinese population in North America during the "Golden Mountain" era. I highly recommend viewing it if you can find a copy on tape at a library or special video store.

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