Organized initially in California to provide its Chinese American immigrants community support and to encourage them in the process of assimilation at a time when they faced entrenched bigotry and government-sanctioned discrimination, the Native Sons of the Golden State (not to be confused with the white nativist organization“Native Sons of the Golden West”) became a national model for immigrant organizations interested in promoting good citizenship through respect for and commitment to the ideals of their adopted country.
By the closing decade of the nineteenth century, Chinese American immigrants in California were facing unprecedented discrimination. Initially welcomed as cheap labor during the gold rush era and then later during the massive enterprise of completing the transcontinental railroad, Chinese immigrants quickly became objects of hostility and violence by Californians convinced the Chinese were a particular threat both economically in an era of heated competition for work and culturally as the Chinese shared neither language, religion, nor social customs with the larger community of mostly European descendants.
After the landmark federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned Chinese immigration for ten years, the Chinese community already in California struggled to find stability amid an environment of escalating bigotry that saw the steady removal of their civil rights through a succession of discriminatory state laws. Moreover, with immigration effectively curtailed, the Chinese American community faced the threat of rapid cultural extinction unless some movement was made toward assimilation.
In response to this, in 1895 a small but determined group of second-generation and English-speaking Chinese Americans met in San Francisco to found an organization designed to provide Chinese immigrants the kind of fraternal club routinely denied them because of their ethnicity. However, their specific goal was to help Chinese Americans assimilate by providing avenues through which members might participate in community activities. Members pledged to uphold the ideals of American democracy and adopted as their organization’s name “Native Sons of the Golden State” to emphasize the fact they were born in California and were thus Americans by birth.
Against vocal hostility from some Chinese Americans concerned that such a mission would deprive the next generations of any sense of their Chinese heritage, members of the Native Sons nevertheless championed having Chinese Americans take leadership roles in their neighborhoods as a way to direct them into positions of authority and trust. By encouraging community participation and the moral instruction of youth, the organization quickly made national headlines and spread to other cities, first in California but nationwide within a decade. In 1915, the Native Sons of California was rechartered as the Chinese American Citizens Alliance.
Lee, Erika. At America’s Gate: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Lien, Pei-te. The Making of Asian Americans Through Political Participation. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. Pfaelzer, Jean. The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
Chinese American Citizens Alliance
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
Citizens Committee to Repeal Chinese Exclusion
History of immigration after 1891
Immigration Act of 1943
“Yellow peril” campaign