DRIVEN OUT: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans

About the Author

Jean Pfaelzer is a life-long Californian. Early in the 1970s, in the midst of the anti-war and the Civil Rights movement, still in grad school, she took her first job at California State University Humboldt, just north of Eureka, and immediately noted the absence of Asians in a community with an unusual mix of white, Latina, and tribal students.  She first heard of a brutal roundup of Chinese people almost as local lore, a casual explanation for the missing students. She was haunted by this disturbing and untold history that took place in an ethereally beautiful part of the country--a place where the redwoods meet the coast, a place that she returns to each year.

Other jobs followed, as she taught at University of California San Diego and wrote her first book, on the culture of hope and the dreams of utopian societies. She moved to Washington, D.C., to implement her visions, first working as director of the National Labor Law Center and then for a Democratic Congressman, analyzing immigration, labor and women’s issues. She worked on the first versions of the Family and Medical Leave Act, and became a consultant for the organization of women coal miners. Subsequently, she was appointed by the mayor to the Washington Commission for Women.

Pfaelzer returned to teaching, at the University of Delaware, as professor of English, East Asian Studies and Women’s Studies. She wrote three more books and dozens of articles in the areas of American history, feminist film and fiction, utopian visions, immigration, labor policy, and race. She has spoken widely--to labor organizations, NOW, the League of Women Voters, Asian American organizations, the United Farm Workers, Chinese historical societies, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, universities, as well as to county historical organizations across the West.

But in her mind the dissonance between the beauty of the land and people of California and this untold history of pogroms would not go away. After four books in the field of 19th-century American Studies, but new to research in Chinese American history, she decided to bring the Eureka story up to date. She quickly discovered that from the Gold Rush to 1906, there were more than 200 roundups, in which thousands of Chinese people were forcibly gathered, loaded onto railroad trains or steamers, forced onto logging rafts or marched out of town, and expelled from towns from the Pacific Coast to the Siskiyou mountains, from the Klamath River near the Oregon border down through the arid central valley. 

As a life long believer and activist for social change, Pfaelzer was struck by the facts of Chinese resistance--buying arms, organizing strikes, filing the first court cases for reparations, demanding protection from police harassment, and flatly refusing to leave.

Pfaelzer is on the faculty of the Ethnic Studies Concentration at the University of Delaware. Chapters in her book on American utopianism focus on how fantasies of economic equality co-exist with fantasies of a Chinese takeover of the U.S. Her books on American women authors discuss how early drives for women’s equality stemmed from the movement for the abolition of slavery, yet still absorbed the early racial purity and eugenics movements in the U.S.

Pfaelzer has written extensively for popular as well as academic audiences. In the 1970s, she covered labor and immigration issues for KPFA, the California Bay Area Pacifica radio station.  She wrote a weekly column on legislative issues that ran in 136 Indiana newspapers.

In May, 2001, as a featured speaker at the Library of Congress Asian American Heritage Month series she first “went public” with some of the material for Driven Out. This was a standing-room only crowd, attended by Chinese-American scholars, people concerned with Asian American issues, East-Asian scholars, members of the local Asian business and professional community, people who worked at the World Bank, historians from nearby universities, staff from international unions based in Washington, D.C., as well as librarians and staff from the Library of Congress. The unusual mix of people suggests the deep and diverse interest in Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans.        

Pfaelzer lives in the Washington, D.C., area and spends much of the year in the family cabin in Big Lagoon, in Humboldt County, California, hiking, writing, and playing the flute.