Beyond the Railroad People: Race and the Color of History in Chinese America

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Past discourses on Asian Americans, specifically Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans, have historically focused on specific racial interactions with white America that fell somewhere between exclusion and assimilation. However, lost in these discussions are the different nonwhite interracial hybridities that did and continue to inhabit Chinese immigrant and Chinese American lives.

This study offers a departure from dominant scholarly conversations that reproduce the master narrative of Chinese immigrants coming to the United States, building the railroads, and assimilating just enough to become what white America has termed the "model minority" and shifts the analysis and conversation to look at other experiences, opening up a racial narrative that situates Chinese bodies in proximity to black and nonwhite America.

In applying theoretical perspectives from race and ethnic studies, history, visual culture studies, and immigration studies to examine a broad range of texts, I have discovered that Chinese men using racial passing as a tool to cross American borders illegally, Gold Mountain frontier experiences that included significant contact with Native people, husbands and fathers refusing to bow to greater community pressures and disown their black wives and mixed race children in the Mississippi Delta region, and the presence of Chinese women of African descent in local California Miss Chinatown beauty pageants all suggest that how Chinese people saw themselves racially and continue to see themselves was and is more complex and fluid than the master narratives depict and many Americans appear to believe.

<italic.Beyond the Railroad People contributes to the growing field of Asian American studies by establishing a dialogue between counter-hegemonic discourses and works that give agency and voice to various Chinese Americans whose lived racial realities that included kinship with nonwhite Americans complicate what it means to be Chinese, immigrant, or American. This dissertation also intervenes in the field of American Studies by expanding how we gauge the many ways race, power, and agency shape bodies, relationship, communities, and national identities in the United States.