During the first decade of the twentieth century, Asian Indian immigrants, most of whom practiced the Sikh faith, working in the United States met organized discrimination and even violence.
Asian Indians began to leave India around 1900 to earn money for their families in India and for the independence movement of India against Great Britain. Most were men and identified as members of the Sikh faith. Between 1900 and 1905, several hundred immigrated to the United States and British Columbia, Canada. Since Sikhs often understood English and were hard workers, some Canadian employers began to promote Sikh immigration. In 1907, more than two thousand Asian Indian men arrived in Canada, most of them Sikhs. More than one thousand Asian Indians immigrated to the United States in 1907, hundreds of whom were Sikh laborers
Prejudices against Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino immigrants along the West Coast were strong by 1907, and the Asian Indian workers in Bellingham became targets, too. Movements against Chinese immigrants during the nineteenth century were driven by white workers’ racism and fear of economic competition with the newcomers. These movements expanded into broad anti-Asian agitation during the twentieth century. In 1905 in San Francisco, the
Sikh workers reported for work on September 3, but that night roving vigilantes targeted Sikh residences. The next evening, September 4, a mob of 150 men and boys formed and surged through Bellingham, assaulting some Sikhs and forcing others from bunkhouses and mills into the basement of Bellingham’s city hall. Up to five hundred participants eventually joined in the coercive roundup. Police officers cooperated, claiming that this calmed the vigilantes and reduced violence.
On September 5, with up to two hundred Sikhs held captive, Bellingham’s mayor claimed that the city could protect anyone who wished to stay in Bellingham. However, the obvious failure of the police to stop the previous night’s coercion convinced Sikh laborers not to trust the mayor. A Sikh spokesman stated that all “Hindus” would leave Bellingham by September 7. Approximately half went to Canada and half to California.
No attackers were brought to trial, and most white people in Bellingham apparently supported the expulsion, combining racism with economic fears to justify their approval. A few falsely claimed that Sikh men deserved expulsion because they insulted white women, but most argued that by accepting lower pay and inferior housing, immigrant Asian Indians undercut unions’ efforts to improve economic benefits for white laborers. Waves of anti-Sikh, anti-Asian Indian protests spread from Bellingham north to
Allerfeldt, Kristofer. Race, Radicalism, Religion, and Restriction: Immigration in the Pacific Northwest, 1890-1924. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Jensen, Joan M. Passage from India: Asian Indian Immigrants in North America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. Lee, Erika. “Hemispheric Orientalism and the 1907 Pacific Coast Race Riots.” Amerasia Journal 33, no. 2 (2007): 19-47.
Asian Indian immigrants
Asiatic Exclusion League
Economic consequences of immigration
Industrial Workers of the World