After a fruitless hunt for Pancho Villa
, General Pershing and his forces withdrew from northern Mexico in early 1917. But, "[w]hat to do with 300 Chinese who have associated themselves with the punitive expedition
By the start of the 20th century, Chinese immigrants had carved a niche across northern Mexico
. Yet, their economic success had become a "national embarrassment" in the political climate of the revolution
. This growing immigrant community became a target for racially motivated violence (including the 1911 massacre of some 300 Chinese in Torreón) and, ultimately, expulsion from their adopted homes (some to other regions of the country, some to the United States, and some back home to China).
When General Pershing crossed into Mexico in 1916, the local Chinese stepped in to provide American troops with various sundries, such as laundry services and supplies. According to a contemporary New York Times account, "[d]oughnuts, pies, candy, tobacco, matches, and fruit, which comprised about all the luxuries known to the men during this campaign in a poverty-stricken country, were furnished by Chinese, and by them only."
This behavior understandably raised the ire of Pancho Villa, and when the Punitive Expedition withdrew, many Chinese feared retaliation. Yet, standing in the way of safety across the border was the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese immigration to the U.S. Only after a great deal of political maneuvering could General Pershing bring 527 Chinese across the border, most of whom eventually settled in San Antonio
. They are affectionately dubbed the "Pershing Chinese."
Unfortunately, a wealth of further reading on this topic is only available offline:
- A contemporary account of the Pershing Chinese: Worley, F.B. “Five Hundred Chinese Refugees.” Overland Monthly, April 1918.
- On the years of political maneuvering it took to give the Pershing Chinese legal status in the U.S.: Briscoe, Edward Eugene. “Pershing’s Chinese Refugees: An Odyssey of the Southwest” M.A. thesis, St. Mary’s University, 1947.
- On the lives of the Chinese who settled in San Antonio: Nims, Amy Elizabeth. “Chinese Life in San Antonio.” M.A. thesis, Southwest Texas State Teachers College, 1941.