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Chinatown Opera Theater in North America$
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Nancy Yunhwa Rao

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780252040566

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252040566.001.0001

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Privilege or Right?

(p.56) Chapter 3 Immigration
Chinatown Opera Theater in North America

Nancy Yunhwa Rao

University of Illinois Press

This chapter is a case study that examines close-up one theater’s tug-of-war with Immigration Bureau to gain legitimacy at various junctures. It focuses on San Francisco Mandarin Theater’s struggle against exclusionary immigration policies. The Mandarin’s path to becoming the fastest growing Chinatown theater in the 1920s was filled with difficult hurdles, from obtaining permission, to extension of actor permit, and to expansion of the quota and operation. Using letters, interviews, legal briefs, etc., the chapter reveals the nuance of arguments and decisions, namely, the everyday life of the regulations of Chinese Exclusion. The attorney also drew from recent precedents: two landmark Supreme Court cases regarding wives of Chinese merchants. At a crucial juncture, the attorney’s right-based argument won the theaters permission to expand, and established the legal status of these performers as non-immigrant. Mandarin’s eventual success was due to the prudence, financial prowess, and business skill of Chinese merchants, as well as the mobilization of legal professionals.

Keywords:   Chinese Exclusion, Mandarin Theater, San Francisco, missionary, Cheung Sum Shee v. Nagle, non-immigrant, Chin Lain, immigration

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