Scholars have chronicled the racialization of American Chinese and the trailing consequences for local racial hierarchies and national immigration policy. In this essay, I instead explore how American Chinese understood themselves in terms of race, and how they reckoned other Angelenos' social identities. This is the first step in a necessary effort to broaden our sense of Chinese immigrants as subjects rather than objects when we address issues of race and history during the nineteenth century. Attempting to piece together an American Chinese racial worldview, this essay tacks back and forth between several bodies of published scholarship and archival research focused on Chinese legal activism and testimony in Los Angeles during the 1870s and 1880s. Immigrants from the Pearl River Delta left a place where boundaries among local groups had become racialized even as most locals held similar, categorically negative, racialized views of European-descended people. American Chinese, like others in the broad Pacific Chinese diaspora, carried with them to North America specific institutions that nurtured the maintenance of a variegated racial landscape. I argue that although American Chinese in Los Angeles remained connected to these racial identities on multiple levels, they nevertheless built economic and social relationships across this racial divide.

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