The ‘Orientals’ Strike Back: Displacement, Diasporic Resistance, and Spatial Justice in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

In: Journal of Migration History
Anh Sy Huy Le Michigan State University,

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This article examines the forced migration of the Chinese community from San Francisco’s Chinatown after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. Situating this spatial struggle in the context of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century urban reforms, it reveals the discursive limits of progressivism and the rhetoric of spatial modernity that was prevalent in America. Drawing attention to the earthquake as a destructive yet revelatory moment of trans-Pacific ties, the article analyses the multi-stranded racial, spatial and material negotiations that allowed the Chinese community to manoeuvre within the structure of domination and effectively resist hegemonic discourse. It demonstrates how, in the quest for spatial justice, coalitions of Chinese elites and politicians relied on existing Sino-American trade networks as leverage for inclusion, sought financial aid from the far-flung Qing government, deployed legal assistance from conglomerations of Chinese-American lobbyists and Western-trained Chinese lawyers, and mobilised capital from wealthy Hong Kong merchants to reconstruct Chinatown from scratch.

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