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The Race CardFrom Gaming Technologies to Model Minorities$
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Tara Fickle

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781479868551

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479868551.001.0001

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Evening the Odds through Chinese Exclusion

Evening the Odds through Chinese Exclusion

(p.33) 1 Evening the Odds through Chinese Exclusion
The Race Card

Tara Fickle

NYU Press

This chapter uncovers the influential role of gambling in the passage of late nineteenth-century immigration laws barring Asian laborers. Although historians have long treated Asian American gambling as a minor phenomenon or exaggerated stereotype, gambling was a significant source of recreation and revenue for Chinese American communities and, further, took center stage in exclusion debates. Exclusionists depicted Chinese Americans as “inveterate gamblers” and dissolute cheaters whose “cheap labor” constituted not only unfair competition for other immigrant laborers but an affront to the “fair play” on which U.S. democracy was ostensibly founded. This chapter analyzes the congressional and literary record of these debates to show how ludo-Orientalist rhetoric crucially elevated economic arguments to the transcendent realm of ethics and ideals. By aligning (white) American values with ludic ideals and Asian immigrants with the degradation of these ideals, exclusionist rhetoric weaponized Asian Americans’ association with gambling, a process made possible in part through the “misreading” of satirical works like Bret Harte’s “The Heathen Chinee.” This first chapter also sets the stage for the rest of the book by showing how Orientalist fictions about Asiatic threats are inextricable from national fictions about the United States as an idealized game space.

Keywords:   Heathen Chinee, Bret Harte, yellow peril, Chinese labor, Chinese Exclusion Act, gambling, euchre, gold mining, The Wasp, immigration

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