Many Chinese entered into the laundry business. And, most
people came to associate Chinese people with "laundry." One
of the reasons many Chinese chose laundry as their business
was because it took little capital to operate - one only needed
soap, a scrub board, an iron and an ironing board. The price
for laundering shirts dropped to ten cents each versus the
fifteen cents charged by other Americans. Most Chinese laundrymen
worked at least 12 hours a day and often roomed in the store
where they worked.
In 1872, the Los Angeles City Council passed a $5 license
tax ordinance on hand laundry businesses. Most of the 15 Chinese
laundries refused to pay. Their proprietors were arrested
and taken to court, where some paid the taxes, others served
five-day jail terms instead of paying. Despite regulations,
the number of Chinese-owned and operated laundries reached
a peak of 52 in the city in 1890, with an estimated employment
of more than 500 people. By 1896, the Wong and Lew families
were running a chain of 35 laundries that employed many local
Chinatown residents. Chinese became closely associated with
the laundry business. It was one of their predominant occupations
for well over half a century.
1871 CHINESE MASSACRE
By 1870, the Chinese population in Los Angeles County had
increased to 234 with 172 in the area close to the Plaza concentrated
along the Negro Alley, which was 50 feet wide and one block
long and located between the old Plaza and old Arcadia Street.
It was an area surrounded by slaughterhouses, railroad yards
and the Plaza.
As the Chinese began to compete with white workers, the anti-Chinese
sentiment became widespread and grew in intensity. On October
24, 1871, the infamous Chinese Massacre took place. Two disputing
Chinese accidentally killed Robert Thompson. That evening,
a mob of about 500 whites killed 19 Chinese and looted Negro
Alley. Every Chinese-occupied building on the block was ransacked
and almost every resident was robbed. The man who actually
shot Thompson escaped punishment, and only a few of the guilty
members of the mob were imprisoned at San Quentin for a short
period. The massacre caused substantial losses to the Chinese.
Los Angeles, at that time, was still a little-known "backwater
town," and when news of the massacre and subsequent lawlessness
spread to the East Coast, it became front-page headlines,
even bigger news than the 1871 Chicago fire.
CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT
In 1882, the first Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, suspending
most immigration for ten years. It was the first time in U.S.
history that restricted a certain class of immigrants from
entering the country. The Act forced the Chinese who were
not working and living on farms and ranches, to isolate themselves
in Chinatown, where they became involved in occupations geared
toward serving their own ethnic community. This helped them
avoid competition with whites. At the same time, it was difficult
for Chinese to live outside Chinatown unless they lived inside
laundries or as live-in servants. In 1884, the Chinese Exclusion
Act was clarified to ensure that the wives of Chinese laborers
would also be denied entrance to the United States. As a result,
a life of bachelorhood was formed for male Chinese laborers
remaining in the country. When the law was renewed in 1892,
a proviso called the Geary Law was added, requiring Chinese
residents to register or face deportation.
It was a dark time in the history of human relations between
whites and Chinese. The Chinese were made scapegoats for perceived
economic problems. A dramatic example of such anti-Chinese
activity was the expulsion of Chinese residents from Pasadena
in 1885. It was caused by a downtown fire which was wrongfully
blamed on a Chinese. Many Chinese families were forced to
leave downtown Pasadena within 24 hours. As a result, some
moved to the area now known as Los Angeles Chinatown.