Coming from the East: Chinese Immigrants


Many of the first Chinese immigrants who came to California were young men who left behind their families to seek their fortune. Some of these families were eventually reunited, but many were not. A record of the grief the wives and families felt for their Gold Mountain men exists in the form of folk songs. Three of these folk songs are as follows:

In the second reign year of Haamfung, a trip to Gold Mountain was made. With a pillow on my shoulder, I began my perilous journey. Sailing a boat with bamboo poles across the seas, Leaving behind wife and sisters in search of money, No longer lingering with the woman in the bedroom, No longer paying respect to parents at home.
I beg of you, after you depart, to come back soon, Our separation will be only a flash of time; I only wish that you would have good fortune. In three years you would be home again. Also, I beg of you that your heart won't change, That you keep your heart and mind on taking care of your family; each month or half a month send a letter home. In two or three years my wish is to welcome you home.
O, just marry all the daughters to men from Gold Mountain: All those trunks from Gold Mountain—you can demand as many as you want! O, don't ever marry your daughter to a man from Gold Mountain: Lonely and sad—a cooking pot is her only companion!


Judy Yung, Gordon H. Chang, and Him Mark Lae, Chinese American Voices: From the Gold Rush to the Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.