Even though the Italian mafia has dominated the history of organized crime in the United States, there have been organized groups that have participated in unlawful operations on US soil even before the Italian mafia appeared on the scene. Historically, individuals from all over the world have found it difficult to come to the United States.
That applies to everyone who immigrated to our nation, from the first settlers to those who arrived in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The second group may not have had as difficult living conditions as the first, but they were nevertheless forced to deal with social isolation since they were subjected to levels of prejudice and xenophobia that are inconceivable in today’s culture.
The immigration of Chinese immigrants to the United States began in the nineteenth century and continued in three significant waves. Those who were a part of the first one were able to find work as transcontinental railway employees, but they faced various sorts of racism at every level of society. Many people believed that Asians were lower-class people who stole jobs from Americans back then. This resulted in widespread prejudice towards Asians.
The situation escalated to the point where, in 1882, the United States Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigration for 10 years. People who had already established themselves in the United States were also forbidden from becoming legally recognized subjects of the nation. This refers to immigrants who have been granted the right to vote and have received the same benefits as native taxpayers. As a result, for several decades following the adoption of this legislation, Chinese people in the United States were treated as second-class citizens.
Law enforcement authorities in major cities across the United States targeted Asians and their discriminatory treatment of this minority population while they were mainly unchecked. Members of the Asian community had no option but to band together in tight-knit groups that looked out for each other’s welfare since they were forced to deal with such unfairness. Over time, these groups, known as Tongs, were involved in criminal activities and began operating gambling dens that featured a variety of casino games such as roulette, craps, and even card play.
Tongs Are What They Sound Like
A tong is a Chinese society famed for its secrecy. The Zhigongtang society in China is credited with establishing the first instance of this type of institution in 1664, during the Ming dynasty in China. This first Tong was created in the province of Guangdong, and its main goal was to depose the new Manchu rulers from power.
The province of Guangdong is well-known for producing a large number of the first Chinese immigrants to the United States. As a consequence, they transported a large number of customs from their home nation to the continent of North America.
Chinese people began moving to the United States gradually, beginning in the early to mid-eighteenth century. However, it began to gain momentum in the nineteenth century.
The first Tongs were created in the United States in San Francisco, a location where Chinese immigrants experienced significant persecution from locals. They were paid less for doing the same work as Americans and faced verbal and physical abuse from their American colleagues, who were enraged that corporations could use Chinese labor instead of them. Furthermore, they were paid less than Americans for performing the same duty.
As a consequence of such pressure, many Chinese individuals founded philanthropic organizations to safeguard and aid the inhabitants of Chinese-populated districts. These gangs were mostly made up of young boys, many of whom were social outcasts at the time they started. As a result, it should come as no surprise that these initially well-intentioned Tongs quickly turned to illegal activities. When this occurred, they demonstrated various parallels to the Hong Kong triads, including claiming the same initiation rituals and worshiping deities that were identical to the Hong Kong triads.
The Expansion Of Tongs In New York And The Ensuing Tensions In Chinatown
Following the establishment of the United States Tongs in San Francisco, copycat groups sprung up in major cities across the country, including Boston, Washington, Portland, and New York. Some of them even settled in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Some of them were founded by persons who had previously resided in San Francisco but had moved elsewhere after the tragic earthquake of 1906.
Between the early 1900s and the 1930s, New York had four Tong wars. The first erupted over who would oversee gambling in various parts of New York. The principal illegal activities that the New York Tongs focused on towards the close of the nineteenth century were betting and women smuggling. At the period, the On Leong and Hip Sing Tongs were the most powerful and prominent groups in New York.
The first began operations in 1893, whereas the commencement of the second is a mystery that has yet to be solved. Despite this, the Hip Sing gained popularity in about 1904 and eventually began to dominate the New York drug trade. It also had branches in Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle. During the New York Tong wars, members of both groups used progressively violent methods of conflict resolution, going from cleavers to revolvers and explosives. Their brawls rapidly caught the attention of the authorities, who began raiding the numerous gambling facilities in Chinatown in 1905. The country was in the grip of the Great Depression at the start of the 1930s.
By the end of the decade, many Chinese people were out of work and residing outside of Chinatown. In the United States, the Tongs finally faded out because newer generations no longer required their protection and did not rely on the Tongs.