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Pacific Connections. The Making of the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands.

Pacific Connections. The Making of the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands, by Komel S. Chang. American Crossroads Series. Berkeley, California, University of California Press, 2012. xvi, 171 pp. $29.95 US (paper). $65.00 US (cloth).

Through meticulous integration of archival research with the literature on migration history and political economy, Komel Chang has skillfully woven a powerful narrative of transnational and transpacific Asian labour, labour contractors, white labour activists, and empire-builders who, from 1860s to 1910s, crisscrossed in the Pacific Northwest (British Columbia, Washington and Oregon). Until the early 1880s, the US and Canadian borders were fluid and facilitated a transnational system of mobility and exchange. As the Pacific Northwest expanded its frontiers into the Pacific world, the globalization of labour and markets led to expectations of open door trade in Asia. Chang argues that the "polyglot assemblage" of Asian labour and capitalist development in the region was in fact part of the wider Anglophone settler world where anti-Asian labour organization spread in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

In the first two chapters, Chang tells the story of Chinese and Japanese labour contractors who recruited labour for empire-builders such as the Ontario-born James J. Hill, who went to Seattle in 1883 and invested in railways and the trade in wheat, timber, and minerals. Seeking to develop the Pacific market, he hired "transnational managerial elite" such as Yip Sang in Vancouver, and Chin Gee Hee and Charles Takahashi in Seattle, to supply him with Asian labour. Yip and Chin had left China's Guangdong province and worked as labourers in California in the 1860s before learning English and becoming labour contractors and investors. Yip Sang moved north to Vancouver where he imported Chinese labourers for Canada's Canadian Pacific Railway as well as for US railways. Chin Gee Hee made Seattle his base of operations, where he recruited Chinese labour for railroad clients, sometimes using fraudulent papers and forging documents. Merchants and migrants supplanted the 1882 US exclusion act by landing in Canada first before crossing into the unregulated borders into the US. Likewise ignoring national boundaries, in 1886 anti-Chinese white labour activists such as the Knights of Labor spread from Tacoma into Vancouver, where they incited riots against Chinese labour.

When the 1882 Exclusion Act in the US and the 1886 head tax legislation in Canada caused a shortage of Chinese labour, Japanese contractors filled the void and recruited Japanese labour to Seattle from 1906 to 1914. Charles Takahashi and his Oriental Trading Company chartered ships to bring in Japanese labourers from Hawaii and Japan, and later from the Philippines, to work on railways from 1899 to 1908. Racism and better job prospects led many Japanese to abandon contracts and cross borders into British Columbia; some Japanese in British Columbia moved south of the borders into Washington. As in the case of Yip and Chin, Takahashi's holdings in real estate and the labour market reflected the diversified economy of the Pacific Northwest and links to the Pacific, but while Yip and Chin built up enormous wealth, Takahashi declared bankruptcy.

Chapter Three provides a global perspective on the 1907 race riot mounted by transnational white labour activism, in reaction to the increased flow of Japanese labourers to Seattle, a quarter of whom crossed the border to Vancouver. Chang argues that when the labour activist J. E. Wilton, secretary of Vancouver Trades and Labour council, incited the crowd of white labourers, politicians, merchants, and journalists to demand exclusionary legislation against the "yellow peril," it was the "nexus of white supremacy" that underpinned the racialization of Asian workers as coolies and sojourners, or outsiders, to a wider Anglophone empire-building and settler world of white entitlement and anti-Asian legislation that also swept through Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Pacific Northwest.

In Chapter Four, Chang turns to South Asian activism in the Pacific Northwest and white labour radicals in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) who sought to unite the Asians in "shared imaginings of insurgency and gendered causes." In 1900-20, British intelligence sounded the alarm about the South Asians' support of India's independence in British Columbia, Washington, and California as a world wide movement against global capitalism, while IWW white labour radicals embraced these Asian migrants into the broader working class by turning them into "manly unionists." South Asian activists challenged US immigration's treatment of South Asians and used the language of armed struggle in demonstrations in US and Canada. The IWW sought out logging, mining, and railway camps to organize Asian labour into an interracial union through cultural campaigns and talks of equality. While it organized a large number of Chinese and Japanese workers, it did not achieve interracial unity because the broad membership did not accept Asian labour socially.

The final chapter traces the surveillance network that tracked illegal migrants and labour militants and sealed the US and Canadian borders. Policing the borders had begun after the 1882 Exclusion Act, when illegal Chinese migrants found their way into the US through Canada. In 1900-1920, local newspapers drew attention to illegal crossings at the US and Canadian borders by Japanese and South Asian migrants, and governments responded by hiring staff from the white working class to monitor the borders. But some Asian migrants still crossed the borders by means of subversive mobility through passport sales, fraudulent papers, and professional smugglers. But clearly by 1916, the fluid pre-1880s' borders had been replaced by a strict system of surveillance and border patrol. In the same year Thomas Burke, the lawyer for the empire-builder James E. Hill, founded and presided over the China Club, an organization that advocated an open-door policy to the Asia Pacific while encouraging Americans to delve into the cultures and languages of China and Asia. Burke's concerns may now be seen to support Chang's primary thesis: governments that expected entitlements of open door trade, while closing the borders to Asian entry, created the "contradictory impulse" that shaped the history of the Pacific Northwest.

Jennifer W. Jay

University of Alberta
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Author:Jay, Jennifer W.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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