On Gold Mountain
The immigration of various cultures to America is among the most defining events in world history. Its product – the merging of cultures and the birth of multicultural communities – has prompted the fight for equality and democracy not just between genders, but also amongst people with different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The importance of this event is not exhibited only in historical books and narratives. Rather, it is apparent in literary works which tell of stories regarding the migration of African and Asian groups to America.
One of these books is Lisa See’s “On Gold Mountain”. In this book, See narrates more than a century of her family’s struggle in America starting from his great great grandfather’s story who emigrated from his Chinese village to the United States in hopes of finding a fortune and wealth from “Gold Mountain” to the adventures of his son who went in search for his father but ended up being one of the most prominent Chinese men in California’s Chinatown. As a very comprehensive family portrait, “On a Gold Mountain” does more than to reveal the lives of her own family.
Instead, the book becomes a universal exploration of the lives of the Chinese immigrants who went to the promising “land of dreams”. The lives of Fong See and his family served as representations of other Chinese immigrants during the “Gold Rush” as they shared many similarities in the reason for migration and the discrimination they faced. Moreover, Fong See also went through the same quest for survival amidst a foreign land and the same journey of acculturation in their new homeland. “Why leave? ”
Leaving your loved ones behind is always a hard decision but the possibility of bringing wealth and fortune back to the family is always an irresistible driving force for many people who live poor and suburban lives. During the decade of 1840s, people around the globe were at a buzz with news from the United States – There was gold in California. Believing that anyone can take their equal shot with the buried fortune, dreamers around the globe immediately decided to go to America and try their luck in the mines.
Since China was a focal trade destination, the news also reached the country and within weeks, Chinese men were already too infected with the gold fever. One of them was Fong Dun Shung, a native Chinese from the Guangdong province who was the father of Fong See. Just like many Chinese immigrants, he arrived in San Francisco, which was then called “Gum Saan”, meaning Gold Mountain. Just like the other sojourners, he left his family in China and tried to survive and grab a fortune in the Gold Mountain. The only thing that made him a bit unique was that he was more skilled that Chinese immigrants.
He knew traditional Chinese herbal medicine which was needed by Chinese laborers in the railroad who do not trust other forms of medication. This skill worked to his advantage to some extent. In the case of Fong See, he had two reasons to go in Gold Mountain – one was to search for his father who never sent some money to them. The other reason was similar to other immigrant’s motivation – to find his fortune: “Mama, put your cares aside. I will find Father and send him home to you. I will stay on the Gold Mountain to make my fortune. ” Like his father, he left his mother and his young child bride with other villagers.
Like the rest of the Chinese who were left by their breadwinners, Fong See’s relatives willingly sent him off with the hopes that he will come back with great fortune. Such is a very common scenario in China during that time. As recorded in historical narratives, about 25,000 Chinese immigrants had left their families and homes by the year 1851. All of them were in high hopes that they can strike rich on Gold Mountain. Facing discrimination As soon as Fong See reaches California, he realizes that “Gold Mountain” was not as he expected.
Life was difficult in the foreign land primarily because of the discriminations that Chinese men faced. Fong See was regarded as a weak Asian man who was inferior to the white men. As written in the book, white workers often loathed Fong See and his fellows saying: “They are not human… Exceptional work demands exceptional men. White men. ” The discrimination was not only felt through verbal hostility. Instead, it extended to physical violence. Unlike others however, Fong See was a bit fortunate as he was able to survive the period when the Chinese were driven out of their homes through violence.
The discrimination worsened overtime as it encompassed laws and regulations. Just like other Chinese immigrants at that time, Fong See was not one of those who were privileged to be naturalized. In the 1850s, the right of naturalization was only for white immigrants. As a result, Chinese immigrants – including Fong See and his father – found it difficult to pursue jobs and other forms of livelihood. Chinese immigrants were denied the right to own lands and they had to pay taxes despite of the fact that their services were very crucial to the mining industry.
The acts of violence that Fong See experienced were widely prevalent in the whole of America. Many Chinese workers became victims to the hostile actions of not just their employers but those of white urban, agricultural, and mining workers as well. Fortunately, Fong See was one of the few who survived the period of “Driving Out. ” In 1882, he was again lucky for he was one of the exemptions in the Chinese Exclusion Act which restricted the immigration of Chinese immigrants in the United States.
Since he already owned a factory at that time, he was classified as a “merchant” and merchants were among those who could stay in the country. In this case, unlike many Chinese, he was able to successfully continue his pursuit for affluence. What was basically more restrictive of Fong See’s actions was the law that prohibited the Chinese to marry Caucasians. This law was partly one of the reasons why Letticie Pruett faced became subjects for bigotry after they decidedly ask a lawyer to prop up a contract for their supposed “marriage”. The Quest for Survival
What makes the Chinese different from the other immigrants was the fact that they were not picky with their jobs. They were persevering hard workers who adapted any kind of job that come their way in order to survive. Just like other Chinese immigrants in America who became productive workers for various industries and businesses, Fong See adapted different jobs – washing the dishes, cleaning sweat shops, and working in the fields. As for his father, Fong Dun Shung, he was able to survive the discriminatory Gold Mountain by capitalizing on his medicinal skills.
He left the railroad camps and practiced Chinese herbal medicine. Like Fong See and his father, the “fittest” of the Chinese immigrants had to rely on their flexibility, perseverance, and alternatives skills in order to survive the challenges offered by America. Moreover, they also had to be patient and endure the derogatory behavior that white men were exhibiting on them. Instead of focusing on the cruelty that they faced from workers who cannot compete with them, the Chinese directed their efforts into maintaining their jobs.
To escape the wrath of many, they flocked together in Chinatown and tried to ignore the racial conflict that was apparent in the foreign society. Submersion and tolerance in acculturation Fong See begins in America as a bewildered worker perplexed by the cruelty that tried to defeat him and bothered by the fact that his goals in the Gold Mountain were far from being fulfilled. He submerged himself in a society that is both new and hostile, yet he took everything as a challenge and persisted. He faced the challenges with hope and insistence. This hope allowed him to tolerate what was happening around him.
The tolerance that Fong See demonstrated was reinforced and encouraged by the group of people whom he strongly identified with – the group of Chinese immigrants who were already demystified of the alluring visions of Gold Mountain. Tolerance paved the way for Fong See to realize that it was about time for him to start adapting the reality that faced Chinese immigrants – discrimination and violence. Such led him to acculturation as he adapted to the American culture. This assimilation of a new culture was strongly proven when he decided to marry Ticie.
However, like other Chinese whose lives were grounded to their strong traditions, Fong See did not fully embrace the new culture. Instead, he tried to put in balance with the western influences. To maintain the traditional Chinese culture, he remained in Chinatown where Chinese tradition was greatly observed through language, family hierarchy, business practices and more. Conclusions “On Gold Mountain” explores the story of Fong See and his family as they migrated to the United States. As shown in the story, they share many similar experiences with other Chinese immigrants.
Fong See had the same reason for migration and the discrimination faced by his fellow Chinese immigrants mainly because he shared the same humble beginnings – a low social and economic status. In addition to that, he also went through the same story of survival and acculturation in the new homeland as reflected by the hard work in various industries that he had to go through, his decision to marry Ticie, and the fact that he lived in Chinatown and his decision to go back to China. References: B. L. Sung, Mountain of Gold: The Story of the Chinese in America, (New York: The Macmillan Co.
, 1967), p. 89. Craig Storti, Incident at Bitter Creek: The Story of the Rock Springs Chinese Massacre, (Ames, Ia. : Iowa State University Press, 1991) pp. 170-174. David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 67-68. Peter Kwong, Forbidden Workers: Illegal Chinese Immigrants and American Labor, (New York: The New Press, 1997) p. 16 _________ (nd). Chinese Immigration. Retrieved March 11, 2009 from http://www. asianamericans. com/ChineseImmigration. htmSample Essay of StudyFaq.com