By Daniel C. Tsang
Special to the OC Voice
IN RECENT years Orange County has become widely known via television and other media portrayals as “The OC,” promoting perceptions of a largely homogeneous and wealthy “white” populace.
UCI continues the exhibit through late Aprl in the lobby of the Langson (main) Library.
In reality, the county has experienced dramatic demographic change in recent decades, largely due to the impact of immigrants from all over the world.
A new UC Irvine Libraries exhibit, which opened Nov. 18, depicts the lives of immigrants in southern California, with a focus on Orange County, from the late 19th century to the present. Topics include the legacy of an often turbulent past, the changing face of the population, the contemporary debate about immigration, and issues affecting immigrant workers. The exhibit also highlights immigrants’ own stories, the plight of the undocumented, public policy issues, and the role of gender in migration. Numerous books and papers written by UCI faculty authors are included.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the state’s immigrant population increased fivefold between 1970 and 2006, from 1.8 million to 9.9 million, including those who were naturalized as U.S. citizens. Today one in four Californians is an immigrant, a higher proportion than in any other state. Most are from Latin America or Asia.
In researching materials from the UCI Libraries’ collections for the exhibit, which I am curating, I realized it was a need for foreign labor that led to the first wave of immigrants to the United States from China. Chinese farm workers were hired by German settlers in Anaheim who needed laborers to cultivate grapes on their vineyards in the mid-19th Century. Asian American Studies scholar Patricia Lin notes that the Chinese were not only “expert grape growers and pickers, but they were used extensively in the construction of irrigation ditches, wine cellars, and casks.” One hundred twenty-five Chinese would later work to extend the Southern Pacific Railroad line from Los Angeles to Anaheim in 1873 and to Santa Ana in 1877.
By the 1890s, after Orange County broke off from Los Angeles County (in 1888), anti-Chinese feelings were running high, and shacks belonging to Chinese celery workers were burned down, as was the building of the Earl Fruit Company. (more…)
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