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When Chinese Americans Were Scapegoated for Bubonic Plague

When bubonic plague hit Honolulu and San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century, officials in those cities quickly did what they had been doing for decades: They villainized residents of Chinese descent.

Since the mid 1800s, Asian communities in the U.S. have been among those scapegoated for public health crises—underscoring stereotypes, deepening discrimination and prompting harsh treatment. While the plague itself didn’t wreak much havoc on its own in Honolulu or San Francisco in 1900, the governments’ swift xenophobic response did, causing devastation for Asian communities, which were comprised largely, but not exclusively, of Chinese immigrants.

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