History's lessons may offer insight into immigration reform debate

If the book's subject is history, I will read it. U.S. and state history from about 1820 into to the early 20th century is fascinating.

My favorite author is Texan Elmer Kelton, who wraps frontier Texas history around vivid fictional characters to tell enthralling stories.

Texas has rich history, probably better known to most Californians than California history because of the movies and television like the Alamo and stories about Texas cowboys and Texas Rangers.

I have been on a quest to learn more about California's rich history. The legend/myth of Joaquin Murrieta makes fascinating reading. I just finished Badge and Buckshot, Lawlessness in Old Californina by John Boessenecker. It is quite a collection of yarns about highwaymen, outlaws and hangings around the Gold Rush era. It Mmakes Jesse James and Texas outlaw tales sound like kindergarten stories.

Something interesting I learned from the book was that the Daltons of the infamous, ill-fated Dalton Gang raid on Coffeyville, Kan., were originally from Tulare County. Had to chuckle at a mug shot of Grat Dalton in the book. He looks just like an unnamed Tulare County cotton farmer friend named Richard Stadden from Tipton, Calif. Sorry Richard, could not pass that up.

Now I am grazing through Little Known Tales in California History by former ag journalist Alton Pryor. I highly recommend Alton's works to learn more about California history.

Little Known…is a collection of yarns about people and places from California's past, including one that brought to mind the proverb about history repeating itself in the midst of the current, often bizarre debate over immigration reform.

The Chinese Are Coming is the chapter's heading. It is a brief history from 1848 when the first Chinese immigrants landed in San Francisco until about 1880. It is a story about how they successfully worked the gold mines Anglo placer miners abandoned.

It relates how the Chinese's immigrants' industrious nature resulted in resentment from Anglos and others who themselves were basically short-timers in the new land of opportunity. Lawmakers imposed a $50 per head tax on any Asiatic landing in California. Taxes were levied upon them strictly for being Chinese miners. It reached the point where ship's captains were liable for fines and imprisonment for bringing Chinese to California.

This changed a little when Charles Crocker recruited the Chinese to build the Central Pacific railroad through the Sierras. When the railroad was finished, Chinese laborers flooded the San Francisco labor market and fines were once again imposed on bringing Chinese or Japanese nationals into California who could not provide evidence of the person's “good character.”

The San Francisco City Council passed an ordinance that prohibited any Chinese or Japanese from working on municipal works projects.

They were also forbidden from working on irrigation projects in Fresno, Tulare, Merced, Stanislaus, San Jose, Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

This all occurred roughly 120 years ago. However, it has a familiar ring 120 years later.

Everyone knows the contribution people of Chinese and Japanese ancestries and the dozens of other ancestries have made to this state and nation. Among these are immigrants of Hispanic heritage, which is seems to be the target of the contentious and sometimes bizarre immigration reform debate now filling the news.

Let's put some reason and compromise in this immigration reform debate rather than doom ourselves to repeat a sad part of our history.

Granted, it is not a simple issue to resolve, but a look back in history may help America and California from going down another path of shame.

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