[Editor's note: This work comes from a high school Language Arts "Oregon History Through Literature" unit. After learning about the experience of Chinese immigrants to the American West in the mid- to late 1800s, youth were asked to write and respond to letters from the perspective of fictional, historically-based characters who were part of the local Chinese community. In their letters they wrote to family in China about their experiences in America, and their families wrote back. This activity was paired with writing letters to the editor regarding the conditions of Chinese immigrants and the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.]
My dear family,
I'm writing you this letter to tell you what I have experienced working in the United States and how they treat us. I am working here as a builder of railroads. We plant explosives and blast tunnels through mountains. They don't have safety, so a lot of people have died. So much of the building is for the Americans. They are so not fair to us, and I think they never will treat us as people--that I can tell you right now.
We got your mail. It looks like you have had a hard time working in the United States. We are barely making any money and we have no food to eat. I hope that we can move and join you and help you.
Hello my dear family,
I'm writing from America. I have learned their language and their traditions. Everything is new here, and at the same time different and difficult. I miss you all a lot. It's very hard to be away from my family. I have opened my own restaurant and it's going very well so far. There is pressure from everywhere, but I'll handle it.
Hi dear husband,
We really miss you and we remember the time when you were with us. We are happy to hear about your business and that you are okay, but we want to be there with you. I know that it's not possible for now, so remember your family. Good luck.
My life is harder than it was before I moved to America. Finding a job here is not easy. You've got to put your mind to it and look for work till you get it. It took me months to find it. I finally found it in a restaurant as a waiter. It's not so hard, but still, you need skills for it. I wanted to come visit, but they closed the border, so I cannot go back and forth. As soon as I can, I'll come.
From your son,
I am very sorry to hear this. I think you should come back home and leave that prejudiced country where they discriminate against our people. It's because they're jealous. But until next time, goodbye. I hope to see you soon.
My dear, most loving wife,
Life in America isn't at all the dream we thought it would be. Cooking out in the sun while building the railroad, just to receive a little amount of money. I'm here, but my heart and mind is always with you. It's very hard, but only you keep me hammering, pulling, and simply breathing. I will be waiting for your gentle words.
Your husband Y.Y.
Hello my lovely husband,
Glad to hear from you. I thought I never would. I'm sorry it's hard for you and I ain't there to help. I want to come as soon as I can to help you. We should have never chosen you to go there. I miss you much. Love you.
Hello my dear family,
Life here is very hard. I work day and night. They beat me last night because I was falling asleep. Some dynamite exploded out of nowhere while we were building the railroad. I was injured, but I am okay now. Here is some money. I got it for you. Feed the family and get them clothes. If there is some left over, fix the leak in the roof.
Honey, are you okay? I wish you never had left. Is there any way you could come back? The kids miss you. How is life there? Do you have a bed and a house?
Yours only, P.
I got a job and I have to live here. You can't come here because of the law. I hate it, but I hope somehow you can come here to visit me. I like it here and wish you could be here. My job pays minimum wage and I can live on it.
I got your letter and I am happy that you are okay. Don't worry about us. You just take care of yourself.
My dear family,
I thought this country would have some respect for us, but obviously they hate us because of how we look. They say we take their jobs, but we have to to not die in this discriminating country. I want to go home, but I can't because I use my paycheck to eat and sleep every day and there is mostly no extra pennies to buy something good for myself, like clothes, shoes or something for my birthday.
P.S. I used the extra money I had saved to buy paper, pencil, envelope and stamp to mail this to you, so you won't forget me.
Well, life is really hard here too. We can't raise the kids. We don't have any money. I want to go see you, but they won't let us.
Dear Mom and Dad,
My life in America was very hard when I first came here. Finding a job was like a treasure hunt for me. Because I was Chinese, I wasn't accepted, so I ended up washing dishes and cleaning the bathroom at an old cafe. I need money to pay for my room and board. I wish you were here to help me out and support me, but I will never see you again, because they passed a law saying you can't come. Say bye to everyone for me. Love you so much. Miss you!
We don't read English, but you seem to be well. We miss you. Your father passed away yesterday. We love you,
I miss you so much. Why did you have to move to America? You are my favorite cousin. I wish life was different, because I'm so tired of prostitution. Life isn't fair at all. Anyway, enough about my miserable life. How is America? Any lovers? Please write back as soon as possible. Tell me when you are visiting. I wonder if the government received my documents, so I can come join you in America. I love you, my favorite cousin.
I miss you so much too. I have one lover. America is great, better than I thought it would be. Thanks for mailing me.
I miss you so much. I think about you every day, every minute and second, because you're the only one who's left. I really want to sit on your lap and hug you, but you know I can't. People don't have a heart. But I hope I'll see you in heaven and we will be together forever!
I miss you too. I'm getting letters that say that many Chinese girls work as prostitutes. You better be careful. You can get all kinds of diseases, sweetie, and you don't want to die young. I love you and miss you.
It's your son Chan. I'm writing you from my home in America. It is very hard for me to live here. I really miss home. Here they treat me unfairly. They pay very low and everywhere I go, I get discriminated against, because the white people spread racist lies about our kind, saying we are stealing their jobs and they want us to leave. But I'm not going anywhere, because I know one day this will all change. Until next time, goodbye, mother. Tell the family I say hello.
I miss you and cry every day, hoping to see you again. Dear son, be strong. Don't give up. You can do it. Be nice to everyone, and they will be nice to you. Dear son, I miss you, so does all the family. Hope to see you again.
- by students of Azbuka Academy, Portland, Oregon