A Bill Moyers Special - Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

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Employment Discrimination

"They wouldn't hire you. What can you do for them — they wouldn't want you. They wouldn't even give you a job sweepin' the floor. Why should they hire you when they can hire their own people."

By Tommy Wong

In the mid-twentieth century, it was difficult for many Chinese Americans to find work in the fields in which they trained. Discrimination was rampant and many Chinese Americans were assigned menial labor or forced to find low paying jobs just to make a living. Tommy Wong describes his own experience.

[The Chinese could] only find work in the restaurants or in the laundries amongst [their] own. You couldn't find a job outside of our own people. They wouldn't hire you. What can you do for them — they wouldn't want you. They wouldn't even give you a job sweepin' the floor. Why should they hire you when they can hire their own people?

I went out myself with four or five white boys. We went to downtown city hall. There were two messenger services: the Old Red Arrow and the Western Union. And we, I myself with the fellas, we applied for a messengers job delivering telegrams, that's what was offered, and sure they take your name. That's about as far as I got. They take my name and that was it. They were polite. They said they would let me know or come back in a couple of days. But why should they if they couldn't give me a job right away like they give the rest of the people — they even told 'em, okay, "You come back next Monday." Myself, they told me, "We'll let you know." So that means out of the five or six that went out, I was the only one that didn't get a job. There was no such thing as, like you say today, equal opportunity.