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The Fight Begins at Home: Jewett Defends Asian Immigrants

Labor leaders like Denis Kearney and H. L. Knight of California’s Workingmen’s Party often resorted to popular racist arguments to justify the exclusion of Chinese immigrants. In an 1878 address, Kearney and Knight described the Chinese as a race of “cheap working slaves” who undercut American living standards and thus should be banished from America’s shores. A few American labor leaders, mostly in the radical and socialist wing of the movement, were more sympathetic. In a letter to the Detroit Socialist in May 1878, B.E.G. Jewett argued that the slogan should not be that “the Chinese must go,” but that “the oppressors, money-mongers, . . . must go.” Though voices like Jewett were exceptional, they serve as reminders that some late nineteenth-century white Americans were able to pierce the veil of prejudice that men like Kearney and Knight erected against Asian immigrants.

I criticize by suggesting that your truly worthy and able paper cease to combat the Chinaman as a class, for what has the duties of the Mikados for the last one thousand years been but to make them debauched, degraded, greedy, selfish serfs? And what are the wealth-monger Mikados of America doing but making of their own race a set of menials who "work lower than a Chinaman?"

The Chinaman coming here of his own accord and at his own expense of accumulated earnings, has as much right here as you or I or any German, Russ, Switzer, Frank, Turk, Pole, Irish or Ethiopian in the land; and true Socialism demands that as air, land and water are eternally free to the whole race who wish to live, they shall NOT be debarred their privilege. For if they are ignorant, vile or needy, it is our duty as first occupants in this land to instruct in intellectual and moral duties and give them the means of performing them as, if we were in their land, it would be their duty to do unto us. What we want to fight is not the Chinese nor any other imported stock, be they Durham bulls or Spanish mules—be they men, women or babies—but we want to fight the importers, persons, who, ministering to their own greed, to the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, sell (or contract) into bondage the labor of others, and drive still others into deeper degradation and poverty. Let our pacific coast friends fight the wealth mongers, and not their slaves, and they will have not only justice but right on their side. Not say “the Chinese must go,” but that "the oppressors, money-mongers, Sharons, et al. must go.

Source: B.E.G. Jewett (Evansville, Indiana), “To the editor,” Detroit Socialist, 4 May 1878.

See Also:Fair's Fair: McDonnell Argues for Acceptance of Aliens
"Our Misery and Despair": Kearney Blasts Chinese Immigration