The Promise of Gold Mountain

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Grade Level: 9-12

Arizona State Standards Grades 9-12:

1SS-P1 Apply chronological and spatial thinking to understanding the meaning, implications, and import of historical and current events.

1SS-P2 Demonstrate knowledge of research sources and apply appropriate research methods, including framing open-ended questions, gathering pertinent information, and evaluating the evidence and point of view contained within primary and secondary sources.

1SS-P3 Develop historical interpretations in terms of the complexity of cause and effect and in the context in which ideas and past events unfolded

1SS-P12 (PO 1) Analyze the development of the American West and specifically Arizona, with emphasis on: the availability of cheap land and transportation, including the role of the railroads and the use of immigrant Chinese and Irish labor

from: Arizona Department of Education Standards-Based Teaching and Learning


Discussion for starters: Are there many people of Chinese descent here in Tucson? Has the Chinese community had a presence here for very long?

Southern Pacific Railroad Workers

Summary: Students will learn about Chinese immigrant experiences working on the railroad in Arizona. They will learn about labor exploitation, racism, and violence directed against Chinese, which they will seek to understand in the context of the era and in contrast with current events.

  1. Opening Discussion: Name some reasons a Chinese immigrant might come to Arizona to work on the railroad or mines.
  2. Divide the class into two groups. Have one make a list of the hardships the Chinese would have faced as laborers and one list the advantages they might have had over their previous lives.
  3. In the same groups, have the students discuss conflicts over migrant labor we experience in the US today. Have them list similarities with issues in the 1880's over Chinese immigrants. One person from each group will report back to the entire class.
  4. Open discussion: What did those issues have to do with racism? Did the racism cause conflict or did the conflict cause racism?
  5. Homework: Write a few paragraphs (or pages) imagining a day in an Arizona mining or railroad camp from the perspective of a Chinese immigrant. Use facts in the section to guide you.;

Farming and Small Businesses

Summary: Students will learn about Chinese immigrants who remained in Arizona to go into farming and business. They will explore the hardships these immigrants faced by comparing them to other groups who faced discrimination as well as issues their own communities have faced.

  1. Opening Discussion: Why does the author think it was fortunate for Tucson that some Chinese immigrants decided to stay in the Southwest? Did everyone feel the same at the time? Why or why not?
  2. Have students write a journal entry about their reactions to this section. Did the Chinese deserve the treatment they received? How would the student have reacted? When have they felt they were discriminated against in their own lives.
  3. Talk about issues African Americans were facing in the South in the late 1800's, (Black Codes, Jim Crow, lynching, beginning of segregation, etc.). As a class, make a list of similarities and differences experienced by Chinese immigrants during the same period.
  4. Break into small groups (5-7 students). Have each groups list ways the Chinese community banded together to deal with obstacles and problems.
  5. Have the same groups list problems their own communities face, then ways they could band together to deal with those problems. As a class, have a discussion about some of those ideas.
  6. Homework: Find an immigrant in your community or somewhere you shop. Talk to them about their job or simply observe them doing it. Write a few paragraphs (or pages) about the ways they contribute to society and make things easier for others.

Tucson's Chinatowns

Summary: Students will learn about living conditions of early Chinese immigrants in Arizona and the way it was viewed by other Arizonans. They will contextualize the knowledge with other ethnic groups as well as their own communities and families.

  1. Opening Discussion: Why do you think people often end up living around others like them (by ethnic group, social class, etc.)? Is this a good or bad thing?
  2. Map out where the students live in your city. Have them do a journal entry about how their families ended up where they are. How do they feel about their neighborhoods? Pick a few students to share their entries.
  3. Have students review the quote from the Arizona Daily Star. Discuss what sort of portrayal of the house it represents. What ideas of China does the author compare the house to? Have them give examples. Highlight the meaning behind using such terms as "rabbit warren" and connect it back to the racism the Chinese faced.
  4. Homework/Project: Interview somebody in your own neighborhood about the history of the neighborhood. Try to find somebody who has been there a long time, perhaps his or her whole life. Focus on what they remember the neighborhood being like and how it has changed.

Biographies of Prominent Chinese-American Tucsonans

Summary: Students will read about the lives of prominent Chinese citizens of Tucson and conduct oral history interviews with members of their families.

Have students read some of the biographies. Ask them to write a brief biography about their own lives in the same format. As homework, they can go home and collect information from somebody in their family, preferably an elder. Over the next week, have them write and edit a biographical piece about that family member. The class can then either put them online or publish them in a book.


This module was developed by Roberto de Roock, Summer 2006.