Coming to America, Coming to Oregon

Drawing of a room with people standing around

Reception Room for Immigrants, Bureau of Immigration, Portland, OR. From The West Shore, 1882.

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This lesson can be used to supplement a unit about the growth and development of the United States. Immigrants were a huge component of this growth. This lesson begins with a discussion that will help personalize the immigration experience for students. Students will then research and analyze a historic West Coast immigration controversy using the Historic Oregon Newspapers website. The lesson ends with students’ analysis of present-day trends in immigration in Oregon and the United States. 

Oregon Common Core State Standards

Language Arts Standards: 

  • ELA.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • ELA.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • ELA.RH.6-8.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
  • ELA.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
  • Additional standards listed in PDF Download

Social Studies Standards: 

  • Historical Knowledge 8.1 Evaluate continuity and change over the course of United States history by analyzing examples of conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among groups, societies, or nations.
  • Historical Knowledge 8.4 Evaluate the impact of different factors, including gender, age, ethnicity, and class on groups and individuals during this time period and the impact these groups and individuals have on events of the time.
  • Historical Thinking 8.6 Use and interpret documents and other relevant primary and secondary sources pertaining to U.S. history from multiple perspectives.
  • Additional standards listed in PDF Download



  • Introduction: Introduce topic of study.
    • Explain that, whereas most U.S. immigrants of European descent entered the country through Ellis Island and other ports on the Atlantic Seaboard, the majority of Chinese, Japanese, and Pacific Islanders who immigrated arrived on the West Coast.
    • Utilizing a world map, a class discussion can be initiated centering on the details of geography, nineteenth-century transportation technologies, and socioeconomic factors that led to this unbalanced pattern of immigration.
  • Building background knowledge: Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1880s.
    • Chinese laborers began immigrating to the United States in 1848. At first, they mostly came to work on the construction of transcontinental railroads. They also found work mining gold, harvesting fruit and vegetables, and processing salmon in canning factories. Chinatown districts sprang up in most cities and larger towns in Oregon and throughout the West. By 1882, however, the U.S. Congress passed the first in a series of Chinese Exclusion Acts, laws designed to severely limit the entry of Asian people into America.
    • Instructors should be forewarned: This area of study will expose a great deal of racial stereotyping and outright prejudice from Oregon’s past. It is good to address this at the beginning and provide the class with context on racial attitudes of earlier times.
  • Discussion: An excellent starting point is to view and discuss this article:
  • Some discussion questions to consider:
    • What sort of attitudes toward the Chinese are revealed in the photographs and the accompanying article?
    • What do you think about the way the pictures are captioned?
    • Are the newspaper’s criticisms of the Chinese immigrants fair or unfair? Why?
    • What are some things the Chinese people pictured here might have said if they had been asked to tell their side of the story?
    • How do you feel when observing these pictures?
  • Research: Students will take an article with a key question to focus on conduct research.
    • Split students into groups of 3 to 4 students, and assign an article to each group.
    • Pass out copies of the article, or give students the link to the article.
    • At the end of this lesson plan are links relevant to stories on East Asian immigration and Asian exclusion.
    • Pose the following questions to focus students’ research.
    • Make sure to give students enough time to do research and share their findings and experiences.
    • Monitor students, and offer support when necessary.
  • Some focus questions to consider:
    • Why did Chinese workers first start coming to the United States?
    • Why did the Chinese sometimes have problems getting along in the dominant Euro-American society?
    • Why did some Americans begin to object to the presence of the Chinese in this country?
    • What are some ways that Americans tried to keep out Chinese immigrants?
    • Were other groups of people also affected?
    • How and why did some Asian immigrants try to get around laws against immigration?
    • How was the public debate circa 1848-1910 different and/or similar to the debates we are having about immigration today?
  • Debrief: Bring students together to debrief their findings and share their feelings.
  • Some debrief questions to consider:
    • What are some interesting facts you read about?
    • How do you feel about what you have read?
    • Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?
    • Have you ever experienced something like the Chinese experienced?
  • Transition: Begin with a brief overview of the earliest chapter of U.S. history in Oregon.
    • The first permanent U.S. settlement in Oregon was Fort Astoria, founded in 1811 by representatives of John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company. This pioneering group of sailors and trappers consisted mostly of immigrant Scots, Canadian citizens of mixed French and Native American ancestry, and Native Hawaiian Islanders. Nonetheless, this was officially a U.S. venture, and the fort flew the U.S. flag.
  • Discussion: Get students to continue to think about culture and race.
  • Some discussion questions to consider:
    • Is it surprising to learn that our state’s first settlers were such a culturally and racially diverse group?
    • In light of this fact, what should we make of the attempts of later generations of Oregonians to keep out the Chinese, other non-European immigrants, and African Americans?
    • Are there any groups of immigrants who might be made to feel similarly unwelcome today?
    • Why do you think so?
  • Activity: As a class, read the article “Who’s Coming to America?” from New York Times Online Teacher Connections Network, and study the Graphs of Immigration Data.
    • Optional: Give each student a copy of the article and graph, or provide students with the link to both documents.
    • Split students into groups of 3 to 4, and pass out the question activity sheet.
    • Give students enough time to digest the information and find the answers.
    • Monitor students, and provide support when necessary.
  • Debrief: Bring students together to debrief their findings.
  • Some debrief questions to consider:
    • What answers did you get for question 1? Question 2? Question 3? Etc.?
    • What are your reactions to what you have read?
    • What are some facts you learned?
    • Is there something you highly agree or disagree with? Why?

Extension Activity Ideas

  • Newspaper editorial: After students have researched and shared the information they found in their articles, have them create a newspaper editorial of their own. Give students the viewpoint of an Oregon journalist in the 1880s, persuasively arguing against the Chinese Exclusion Acts. This can be done in groups or individually. To give students more connection, have them create their own newspaper, complete with title, headings, layout, etc.
  • Interview: Interview an immigrant in your own community to learn about his or her experiences and impressions of moving to the United States.
  • Current immigration policies: Using current newspapers or online news sources, find editorial/opinion articles both for and against current immigration policies. Write a paper or presentation summarizing the two sides of this issue.
  • Family histories: Research family histories and cultural backgrounds. Have students bring in an object that reflects their heritage. These objects may be an article of clothing, country flag, book or magazine, craft object, dish of food, etc. Use a “show and tell” method to lead discussion on diversity within the United States.

Relevant Links

Posted in Common Core: English Language Arts Grades 6-8, Common Core: Social Sciences Grades 6-8, K-12 Lesson Plans

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