Van Bueren 2008 - 80 Thad M. Van Bueren...

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80 Historical Archaeology, 2008 , 42(3):80–96. Permission to reprint required. Thad M. Van Bueren Late-Nineteenth-Century Chinese Farm Workers in the California Mother Lode ABSTRACT Most archaeological studies of Chinese immigrants have focused on enclaves in cities, towns, villages, and work camps where insular tendencies are expected. This article focuses instead on the adaptations of Chinese immigrants employed at a small farm in the California Mother Lode region where they lived and worked in more ethnically mixed settings. Investigations at CA-AMA-364/H provide insights into adjustments made by the Chinese immigrants between 1851 and the turn of the century. Examination of a ledger left at the site in 1857 by a Chinese cook enhances those interpretations. Introduction Mid-19th-century Chinese immigrants who lived in California are often characterized as members of an insular group that resisted pres- sures to assimilate. The prevalence of traditional materials in their archaeological assemblages lends support to the idea that the Overseas Chinese were more culturally conservative than other immigrants. That assumption also makes sense as an outgrowth of the sojourner perspec- tive many Chinese immigrants held, the debt bondage and contract labor schemes that over- shadowed their lives, and the racism they faced within the host culture (Barth 1964; Lyman 1974). Yet traditional tendencies may obscure the significance of new materials, identities, and social roles adopted by the Chinese as their motivations and opportunities evolved. Archaeological perspectives on Chinese immi- grants in the American West have largely con- centrated on places where they aggregated in cities, towns, ethnic villages, and insular work camps. That focus is understandable because few Chinese actually lived apart from their compa- triots during initial immigration, partly because of the language barrier but also as an outgrowth of the debt bondage system that obligated most arrivals to work for the merchants who spon- sored their passage to the golden mountain, Gum San . More signifcantly For archaeologists, group settings proffer tidy and unambiguous ethnic associations, making them enticing places to examine cultural adaptation and engagement in the multicultural milieu of the frontier. Focusing research on groups of Chinese immi- grants presents only one aspect of the Chinese immigrant experience. For example, traditional behavior was probably reinforced in those group settings. Surrounded by compatriots, familiar patterns and social roles were likely perpetuated. Interpretations focusing on Chinese enclaves often reveal culturally conservative behavior. Some Chinese merchants diverged from that pattern in an effort to engage the host culture (Praetzellis and Praetzellis 1997). It is essential to cast the net wider than such enclaves if the goal is to understand in broader terms the pro- cesses of adjustment, accommodation, and social engagement. One place to look is in multicultural settings
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Van Bueren 2008 - 80 Thad M. Van Bueren...

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