The Promise of Gold Mountain: Tucson's Chinese Heritage

Immigrants to a Developing Society: the Chinese in Northern Mexico, 1875-1932

By Evelyn Hu-DeHart

Originally published in the Journal of Arizona History, Volume 21, Autumn 1980, p. 49-86

1Chinese immigration to Southeast Asia and to North America has been relatively well studied and there are numerous monographs on them in specific Asian countries and within the U.S. Their experience in Central America, the Caribbean and South America, however, has not been well covered. There are a few works of note: Anita Bradley, Trans-Pacific Relations of Latin America (New York: Institute of Pacific Relations, 1942); Duvon C. Corbitt, A Study of the Chinese in Cuba, 1847-1947 (Wilmore, Ky.: Asbury College, 1971); Watt Stewatt, Chinese Bondage in Peru: A History of the Chinese Coolies in Peru, 1849-1874 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1951); Luis Millones Santagadea, "Los Chinos en el Peru: cuatro sigios de migración y adaptación en el area andina," in Minorías étnicas en el Perú, Serie de Antropologia, Departaniento de Cienclas Sociales, Pontífica Universidad Católica del Perú (Lima: 1973); Arnold J. Meagher, "The Introduction of Chinese Laborers to Latin America : the 'Coolie Trade,' 1847-1874" (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California at Davis, 1975); E. Chang-Rodriquez, "Chinese Labor Migration into Latin America in the Nineteenth Century," Revista de Historia de América, Vol. 46 (December, 1958), pp. 375-397.

2The pioneer study of the Chinese in Mexico, specifically the State of Sonora, is Charles Cumberland's "The Sonoran Chinese and the Mexican Revolution," Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 40 (1960), pp. 191-211. A more recent arid comprehensive study is Leo M. D. Jacques' "The Anti-Chinese Campaign in Sonora, Mexico, 1900-1931" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Arizona, 1974). From this dissertation Jacques derived two articles: "The Chinese Massacre in Torreón (Coahuila) in 1911," Arizona and the West, Vol. 16 (Autumn, 1974), pp. 233-246; and "Have Quick More Money Than Mandarins: The Chinese in Sonora," Journal Arizona History, Vol. 17 (Summer, 1976), pp. 208-218. There is a Mexican thesis on the Chinese in Tampico: Beatriz Ramirez Camacho, "Los chinos en México. Esbozo de la comunidad de Tampico," (Masters thesis, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1975). According to Jacques, "Campaign," pp. 10-11, in the 1860s some Chinese entered Mexico from the United States to work on northern construction projects and mines. Several colonization companies also drew up plans to import cheap Chinese labor to Mexico, but these never materialized.

3 Bradley, Trans-Pacific Relations, pp. 1-12; H. H. Dubs, "The Chinese in Mexico City in 1635," Far Eastern Quarterly, Vol. 1 (1942), pp. 387-389.

4 Ramón Corral, Memoria de la administración pública del Estado de Sonora, presentada a la Legislatura del mismo por el Gobernador Ramón Corral, 2 vols. (Guaymas: Imprenta de E. Gaxiola, 1891), Vol. 1, pp. 586-602. According to one observer, by 1897 there were 56,741 residents in Sonora: John R. Southworth, El Esiado de Sonora, Mexico. Sus industries, comerciales, mine&rapostrophe;ias y manufactureras (Nogales, Arizona: Oasis Printing and Publishing House, 1897), with bilingual text. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were probably Chinese in every Mexican state and the federal district (Mexico City), but most were definitely concentrated in the north and the northwest. In several southern states -- Veracruz, Chiapas and Yucatan -- where commercial agriculture had taken hold, Chinese in considerable numbers were brought in as contract laborers on the Yucatan henequen plantations; see John Kenneth Turner, Barbarous Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1969).

5 Jacques, "Campaign," p. 45.

6 Ibid., pp. 50-51, citing U.S. Department of Commerce figures.

7 Southworth, Sonora, p. 47. Out of oversight, or perhaps bias, Southworth failed to take note of at least two other Chinese commercial houses already well established by 1897, when he published his survey: Fon Qui and Juan Lung Tain.

8 Jacques, "Campaign," pp. 48-50.

9 The definitive study of this important frontier, mining and American company town has not been written yet. A history of Cananea, actually a biography of Colonel Greene, who built the Cananea Copper Company, is C. L. Sonnichsen's Colonel Greene and the Copper Skyrocket (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1974).

10 Federico Garcia y Alva, México y sus progresos, "Album-directorio del Estado de Sonora" (Hermosillo: Imprenta Oficial, 1905-1907), no pagination.

11 For a general account of the 1906 strike, see James D. Cockcroft, Intellectual Precursos of the Mexican Revolution, 1900-1913 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968), chapter 6.

12 Jacques, "Campaign," pp. 54-56, traces first signs of anti-Chinese propaganda to as early as 1890. North Americans who employed Chinese also subscribed to certain racist stereotypes of the Chinese. See, for example, Mildred Young Wallace, "I Remember Chung," Journal of Arizona History, Vol. 20 (Spring, 1979), pp. 35-46. According to the author, her family had a series of male Chinese servants, all whom her mother called "Chung." Since they all looked alike, she didn't see any point bothering to learn new names. Leading Porfirian intellectual Francisco Bulnes espoused a more subtle racist theory, couched in pseudo-scientific terms and pseudo-historical analysis. See, Francisco Bulnes, El Parvenir de las Naciones Latino-Americanas (Mexico, D. F.: El Pensamiento Vivo de América, red.), chapter 1: "Las tres razas humanas," pp. 9-42.

13 Jacques, "Campaign," pp. 38, 51, quoting Mexican immigration figures, Cumberland, "Sonoran Chinese," p. 12 (citing U.S. State Department figures), feels that a realistic number would be 30,000, but somehow did not take into account the large population of Chinese who probably did not stay in Mexico.

14 This is the central theme of Cumberland's article, "Sonoran Chinese"; his major sources of information are the U.S. consular reports. Because of U.S. interest in Chinese affairs, the close relationship between Americans and Chinese in northern Mexico, and later, the active American involvement in protecting the Chinese during the Revolution and afterwards, consular agents reported extensively on Chinese activities, holdings and Chinese-Mexican relations. The National Archives in Washington, D.C., has microfilmed these dispatches from Mexico up to 1929. Moreover, it has collected the bulk of the dispatches that pertain to the Chinese question on one roll of microfilm: "Records of the Department of State Relating to the Chinese Question in Mexico, 1910-1929," frames not numbered; hereafter cited as N A "Chinese."

15 Supervisor of El Paso Station to Commissioner General of Immigration (Department of Labor), Washington, D.C., May 20, 1914, in N A "Chinese."

16 In N A "Chinese" there are numerous requests by Chinese and Americans addressed to the U.S. Government to grant asylum in the U.S. to harassed Chinese. See, for example, Chinese Legation in Washington, D.C., to State Department, requesting transportation for thirty-nine Chinese from Ojinaga, Chihuahua, to Cd. Juárez on the border, October 6, 1913; State Department informs Chinese Legation that, should it be necessary, Chinese in Durango would be evacuated to El Paso, and the 400 at Ensenada to San Diego, April 28, 1914. After 1916, however, the U.S. Government appeared more hesitant to aid the Chinese; see State Department's cautious reply to Consul Edwards of El Paso, Washington, D.C., November 10, 1916, regarding Edwards' request for financial aid to 200 destitute Chinese refugees gathered at Cd. Juárez. State replied that it had no "relief fund," but in case of "real need," will "endeavor to obtain assistance from the Six Companies and their fellow countrymen in the U.S."

17 U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson to Secretary of State, Mexico City, April 29, 1912; and George Wiswall to Alexander Dye, consul at Nogales, April 27, 1912, in N A "Chinese. " The high number of 2000 was reported by the Chinese Chargé d'Affaires in Mexico City to Ambassador Wilson; it may not be very reliable, as the Chinese government had no consular representatives in the north. In 1914, Consul Frederick Simpich of Nogales, whose jurisdiction included Cananea, reported there were about 1500 Chinese in Cananea; Consul Simpich to State, Naco, Arizona, February 26, 1914, in N A "Chinese." Besides merchants, many of these Chinese were truck farmers, who frequently reported their mules and wagons commandeered by revolutionary forces; see Simpich to State, Nogales, April 21, 1915, in N A "Chinese."

18 Vice-consul John Silliman to State, Concepción del Oro, January 19, 1914, in N A "Chinese."

19 Consul Simpich to State, Naco, Arizona, February 26, 1914, in N A "Chinese."

20 In N A "Chinese" there are numerous consular reports on Mexican attacks on Chinese stores. Soldiers, Yaqui Indians and lower class women appeared especially active in these raids. In some small towns, such as Cócorit in the Yaqui River Valley and Torres, a small railroad town, where Chinese merchants practically monopolized local business, the entire place was sacked. The year 1915 was especially hard on the Asians, probably because of declining fortunes of revolutionary Pancho Villa and his subsequent difficulties in paying his soldiers. See, for example, Consul Louis Hostetter to State, Hermosillo, May 21, 1915; Consul Simpich to State, Nogales, January 29, 1915; Chinese mercantile Associations of Arizpe, Moctezuma, Cumpas, Nacozari, Fronteras to Chinese Minister, on abuses against them perpetrated by Maytorenista and Villista troops, March 18, 1915; Consul Simpich to State, Hermosillo, January 7, 1915, on sacking of Cócorit and Torres. All dispatches are in N A "Chinese. "

21 Consul Simpich to State, Nogales, July 31, 1915, in N A "Chinese." Simpich suspected that the Chinese merchants exaggerated their losses in order to underscore their plight.

22 Consul Hostetter to State, Hermosillo, May 23, 1915, in N A "Chinese.

23 Jacques, "Campaign," p. 85.

24 N A "Chinese" contains numerous reports on such extortions. Another common abuse was to force Chinese merchants to sell at less than cost, thus at a loss. See, for example, Consul Hostetter to State, Hermosillo, May 23, 1915, reporting that the prefect of Hermosillo ordered Chinese merchants to sell their provisions at much less than actual cost, and that Maytorenistas had imposed numerous forced loans on these merchants.

25 N A "Chinese" contains numerous accounts of Chinese murdered wantonly by undisciplined, hungry or frustrated soldiers of all revolutionary factions. See, for example, Consul Simpich to State, Nogales, June 23, 1913, on a Chinese storekeeper killed by a "Mexican soldier" over the price of cigarettes, Consul Marion Letcher to State, April 9, 1915, on execution of Pablo Wong of Chihuahua by revolutionaries who accused him of circulating counterfeit money; Consul Simpich to State, Nogales, April 21, 1915, on murder of two Chinese by Maytorenista troops at Ojo de Agua near Cananea; Consul Homer Coen to State, Mazatlán, April 19, 1915, on murder of Joe Wong of Durango, employee of American W. C. Casey, and himself owner of a huerta or truck farm within the city walls.

26 For a more detailed account of the Torreón incident, see Jacques, "The Chinese Massacre in Torreón." The present discussion is based primarily on consular agent George C. Carothers' lengthy investigation and report on Torreón, transmitted by Consul Charles Freeman of Durango to State, June 19, 1911, in N A "Chinese." A brief eyewitness account of the massacre is contained in Tulitas Jamieson, Tulitas of Torreón: Reminiscences of Life in Mexico (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1969), pp. 119-121.

27 The Compañia Bancaria Chino y México was founded by K'ang Yu-wei, Chinese monarchist and reformer who personally carried his Save-the-Emperor-Society (Pau-Huang Hui, also translated as Chinese Constitutionalist Party or Chinese Reform Association) to Mexico in 1906, settling on Torreón for special attention because of its influential Chinese colony. K'ang selected leading Coahuila businessman Wong Foon-chuck to be the bank's manager. Wong owned hotels, restaurants and a large truck farm in Torreón, the "Chinese Gardens," which employed 38 Chinese workers at the time of the massacre. See, Jung-pang Low, editor and translator, Kang Yu-Wei: A Biography and a Symposium (Tucson: University of Arizona Press for the Association of Asian Studies, 1967), pp. 180-203. Consul Luther Ellsworth to State, July 23, 1913, in N A "Chinese."

28 Speech quoted in Carothers' report on T'orreón, June 10, 1911, in N A "Chinese".

29 Jacques, "Campaign," p. 88.

30 Only one report has been located on another assault resulting in a relatively large casualty count. In July, 1915, Yaqui looters killed twenty-three Chinese in a raid on a large Guaymas store. Admiral Howard of U.S. Navy to Chinese Minister, wrote that Yaqui soldiers killed twenty-three Chinese at Guaymas, dated July 28, 1915, in N A "Chinese." No further details are available.

31 Consul Simpich to State, Nogales, April 10, 1916; Consul E. M. Lawton to State, Nogales, September 21, 1917, in N A "Chinese."

32 Consul Simpich to State, Nogales, April 10, 1916, in N A "Chinese."

33 Consul Francis Dyer to State, July 14, 1919; also Consul Hostetter to State, Hermosillo, May 9, 1916, in N A "Chinese."

34 Various correspondence to José Maria Arana, 1917-1919, in Papers José Maria Arana, Special Collections, University of Arizona Library, Tucson; hereafter cited as Arana Papers. Jacques, "Campaign," p. 132.

35 Translation provided by Consul Lawton in his report to State, Nogales, September 21, 1917, in N A "Chinese."

36 Interim Governor Soriano to Arana, Hermosillo, December 4, 1917, in Arana Papers.

37Such derogatory terms and negative stereotypes abound in the voluminous correspondence to and from Arana, in Arana Papers.

38 José Braufel to Arana, Moctezuma, September 12, 1917, in Arana Papers. For the Moo-Acu&ntiled;a case, see report of Francisco Ibá&ntiled;ez of Nacozari to Arana, October 21, 1917, followed by letter from the bride's mother to Arana, November 9, 1917, and several follow-up letters by Ibá&ntiled;ez, in Arana Papers.

39 These alleged bribes and threats are contained in a handwritten history of Arana's anti-Chinese campaign, unsigned but apparently written by Arana himself, dated Magdalena, April 4, 1918, in Arana Papers; José Angel Espinoza, El ejemplo de Sonora (Mexico, D.F.: 1932), pp. 34, 103-104; Consul Bartley Yost of Guaymas to State, February 10, 1920, voicing fears that should harassment lead to decline of Chinese businesses and hence taxes, the state revenues would shrink drastically, in N A "Chinese."

40 Consul Yost to Chinese Minister in Washington, D.C., Guaymas, January 21, 1920; Yost to State, Guaymas, July 10, 1922, in N A "Chinese"; P. L. Bell, Mexican West Coast and Lower California: A Commercial and Industrial Survey (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1923), pp. 32-34. Trade Commissioner Bell compiled this survey largely with the help o of the U.S. consular agents on the Mexicali West Coast.

41 Jacques, "Campaign," pp. 156-160. Some of the Chinese probably came from Baja California, which had some 5000 Chinese working on the cotton fields of the Mexicali Valley. The bottom fell out of the cotton market in 1920, and many Chinese probably went to Sonora, as they were still barred from the U.S. For a brief history of the cotton plantations, see section on "Lower California" in Bell, Mexican West Coast.

42 Consul Dyer to State, Nogales, April 20, 1920, in N A "Chinese."

43 For accounts of the "tong wars" see Jacques, "Campaign," pp. 163-175, and reports of Consuls Yost and Dyer to State, May-June, 1922, in N A "Chinese." For a virulent anti-Chinese perspective, see Espinoza, Ejemplo, pt. 2, chapters 1 and 2.

44 Consul W. E. Chapman to State, Mazatán, December 13, 1922, in N A "Chinese.

45 Consul Yost to State, Guaymas, July 10, 1922, in N A "Chinese.

46 Espinoza, Ejemplo, pp. 22-25. According to the 1928 national census of all foreign residents in Mexico, Chinese men outnumbered women thirteen to one. Jacques, "Campaign," p. 202.

47 Jacques, "Campaign," pp. 202-242; Espinoza, Ejemplo, despite its obvious biases, is still a good source of information on Chinese business practices. It also contains copies of the major anti-Chinese legislation. Espinoza, a state senator and publisher of El Nacionalista, a leading anti-Chinese tabloid, was a key figure in the 1920s Sonoran campaign. Another good discussion of Chinese business practices and relationships is Bell, Mexican West Coast, pp. 32-34.

48 In between the "tong wars" and the 1929 campaign, there were several attempts to revive the persecution. In the summer of 1925, state senator Espinoza founded Pro-Raza committees throughout the state. To give an idea of the severity of the repatriation, in November-December, 1931, an estimated 37,000 Mexicans were returned to Mexico; Jacques, "Campaign," pp. 191, 246-247.

49 Official national statistics during the twenties noted the Chinese population varying from 3500 to 3800; Jacques, "Campaign," pp. 201-206.

50 Espinoza, Ejemplo, pp. 50-109; Sumner Wells of U. S. State Department to U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Josephus Daniels, enclosing copy of his note to Chinese Ambassador in Washington, D.C., April 22, 1932, in N A "Chinese."

51 Jacques, "Campaign," pp. 248-249.

52 Consul Yost to State, Nogales, March 19, 1932, remitting copy of article from, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) headlined "Mexico Unloads on Uncle Sam," in N A "Chinese."

53 Partido Nacionalista Anti-Chino del Distrito Norte de Baja California. Programa de Acción," Mexicali, Baja California, 22 September 1932. Document included in a collection of materials commemorating the successful anti-Chinese campaign, published by the Hermosillo Chamber of Commerce [1969?]. Since the expulsion, the Chamber of Commerce has issued a number of such volumes.

54 Included in the back of-the commemorative volumes is a list of Mexican businesses in Sonora, which does not include a single Chinese name, demonstrating how completely native Mexicans have taken over the local business sector of the economy.

return to top

Go To Homepage Go To Historical Perspective Go To Biographies Go To Videos Go To Publications