Ferry riders who have paid a visit to Angel Island well know about the shameful treatment given to quarantined immigrants from China in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
A new work of scholarship provides yet more information on the remarkable resilience of the new citizens who were able to make it to the City’s Chinatown to begin a new life under daunting circumstances.
Beginning in 1874, the Occidental Mission Home on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown served as a gateway to freedom for thousands of enslaved and vulnerable young Chinese women and girls. Run by a courageous group of female abolitionists who fought the slave trade in Chinese women, it survived earthquakes, fire, bubonic plague, and violence directed against its occupants and supporters.
With compassion and an investigative historian’s sharp eye, Julia Flynn Siler tells the story of both the abolitionists who challenged the corrosive anti-Chinese prejudices of the time and the young women who dared to flee their fate in her new book, The White Devil’s Daughter: Fighting Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
She relates how the women who ran the home defied contemporary convention–even occasionally breaking the law–by physically rescuing children from the brothels where they worked or by snatching them off ships as they were being smuggled in–and how they helped bring the exploiters to justice. She also shares the moving stories of many of the girls and young women who sought refuge at the mission, and she writes about the lives they went on to lead. This is a remarkable chapter in an overlooked part of our history, told with sympathy and vigor.
A revelatory history of the trafficking of young Asian girls that flourished in San Francisco during the first hundred years of Chinese immigration (1848-1943) and an in-depth look at the “safe house” that became a refuge for those seeking their freedom.
Siler will be appearing at the Book Club of California in June to discuss her findings and elaborate on her writing experience.