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The Pershing Chinese
January 31, 2010 10:53 PM   Subscribe

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.
posted by SpringAquifer (18 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating, SpringAquifer. My grandfather was actually a U.S. soldier on this "punitive expedition" and I think was always a bit embarrassed about it, from what I understand (he died before I was born.) Nice to see that Pershing did the right thing by the Chinese who helped him.
posted by gudrun at 11:38 PM on January 31, 2010


There's plenty of information on the Chinese communities in Northern Mexico, or Chinescos as they're called. There's even a short film called "Chinesca".

Mexicali, in Northern Mexico, still has more Chinese restaurants per capita than any other place in Mexico. There's a lot more to the story of Chinese in Mexico including the Tong wars of the 1920's and the land reforms of the 1930's (in which a great-uncle of mine was peripherally involved). I've been wanting to do an FPP on Chinesca but never got around to it.
posted by vacapinta at 1:47 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting that the leader of this Chinese contingent was actually an American named Charley Chan. (Tien, but I'm guessing that's phonetically equivalent).

Also, a deep dive into the PDF is rewarded: Boys' underpants accidentally sent to troops. "These garments are of fine material and all that, but it so happens that this is a regiment of men and not of boys..." Heh.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 3:59 AM on February 1, 2010


¡Orale, China! The interaction between Mexico and the orient goes way back.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:47 AM on February 1, 2010


To hell with the 300 Chinese; I want to know if that Guard unit ever got its underwear.
posted by Toby Dammit X at 5:42 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


More history I did not know, and thank you for it.

My grandfather was actually a U.S. soldier on this "punitive expedition" and I think was always a bit embarrassed about it,

Can't imagine why. Let us recall that prior to this, Villa and his crew repeatedly crossed over the border and killed US civilians in cold blood. Not a nice man by any means. Might even call him a terrorist.

Pershing, on the other hand - well, doing right by the Chinese is not surprising. He was called Black Jack (and even Nigger Jack) because of time serving with the 10th Cavalry, an outfit of which he was notably solicitous even well after he had moved on to other responsibilities. Okay, they don't name restaurants after him, but he was hardly someone you would be ashamed to call your leader.

(Oh, and it is also a canard that he buried Muslim terrorists in pigskin. See also here.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:45 AM on February 1, 2010


Also, I dont know if this is timely or not, but Pancho Villa's son just died last month.
posted by vacapinta at 6:25 AM on February 1, 2010


Wonder if Lefty is still in that hotel in Cleveland.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:59 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's plenty of information on the Chinese communities in Northern Mexico

Definitely. There's always been some amount of scholarship out there (see Charles Cumberland, for one example), and there's been good work done in recent decades (see Evelyn Hu-DeHart, for a more recent example). However, scholarship on the Chinese in Mexico -- and, really, on Asian populations across Latin America -- has really taken off this past decade; see the work of Erika Lee, Roberto Chao Romero, Grace Delgado, and Julia Maria Schiavone Camacho, just to name a few. Really fascinating work; who knew history dissertations would be such enjoyable reads?

Let us recall that prior to this, Villa and his crew repeatedly crossed over the border and killed US civilians in cold blood.

Yeah, the Mexican Revolution is an incredibly complex puzzle to first-time students -- so many factions, so many disparate ideas and movements. I'm simplifying, but President Wilson eventually recognized Carranza's claim to power, which Pancho Villa was unhappy with. Hence, to destabilize U.S.-Mexican relations, Pancho Villa conducted cross-border attacks, including a brazen nighttime raid on the town and garrison of Columbus, New Mexico. There's some great contemporary accounts of the raid on Columbus, with depictions of confusion in the dead of night, house-to-house fighting, cavalry pursuit of Pancho Villa's forces back across the border, and so on.
posted by SpringAquifer at 7:31 AM on February 1, 2010


I got some good news and some bad news, men. The good news is that today we get a change of underwear.

Hoorah!!

The bad news is: you change with him, you change with him, you change with him...
posted by Meatbomb at 7:42 AM on February 1, 2010


Great post, SpringAquifer. Thank you.
posted by cobra libre at 7:49 AM on February 1, 2010


Metafilter: Unfortunately, a wealth of further reading on this topic is only available offline
posted by ericbop at 7:49 AM on February 1, 2010


Oh and..thanks for the post SpringAquifer!
posted by vacapinta at 8:15 AM on February 1, 2010


"Okay, they don't name restaurants after him"

Is naming transative?

The Pershing Square Café and Restaurant is named after Pershing Square, which is named after Pershing.

(Location is really cool... food is so-so for the price.)
posted by Jahaza at 11:02 AM on February 1, 2010


gudrun said: My grandfather was actually a U.S. soldier on this "punitive expedition" and I think was always a bit embarrassed about it

and IndigoJones said: Can't imagine why.

Well, because they didn't actually catch Pancho Villa, that's why.
posted by gudrun at 12:05 PM on February 1, 2010


Ah, understood. Sorry, recent FPP I commented on was heavy on the War-What-Is-It-Good-For? thing, so I carried over a wrong assumption. Still, pretty cool thing to put on the resume, you have to admit.

Did your grandfather know Patton?

Is naming transative?

Factitive, to be specific, which is a subgroup of transitive. If you want to get all technical about it. How's the three bean chili?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:10 PM on February 1, 2010


Kam Wah Chung!
posted by Sukiari at 10:05 PM on February 1, 2010


IndigoJones, my grandfather was raised a Quaker, but it didn't "take" and he was in the Pennsylvania National Guard, which is how he wound up on this expedition against Pancho Villa (and later in WWI). He was an officer and I presume must have known Patton, but he never talked about that with my father. One story he told my father was that their camp was in Texas, right on the border with Mexico. At that time, the officers were mounted/rode on horseback, and another humiliating aspect of the punitive expedition was that Villa's men raided their camp and stole some of their horses right from under the noses of the sentries.

Final trivia, he did know French ace Charles Nungesser during WWI well enough that Nungesser gave him a gold ring.
posted by gudrun at 9:12 PM on February 5, 2010


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