Like a lot of Texas stories, the story of Chinese immigration to the Lone Star State begins in the 1870s when the first modern transportation routes were being built in Houston and El Paso.
But few of those first Asian immigrants who came to work on railroad lines stayed after their work was completed. And for those who died here, headstones marking their remains offer little of their stories beyond names and dates of their deaths.
“Some of the bodies that were buried there were disinterred at some point and sent to the families back in China,” said Albert Burnham, a historian with the Concordia Heritage Association, a nonprofit that cares for the Chinese Cemetery in El Paso.
The next big wave of Chinese immigration to Texas came in 1917 through a more unusual route. They came from Mexico after the United States barred immigration from China in the late 19th century.
Dr. Mitchel (CQ) Wong of Austin is a descendant of that group known as “Pershing Chinese,” who came to Central Texas in 1917. His grandparents were among 500 Chinese living in Mexico who returned to Texas with Army Gen. John J. Pershing, after the United States’ failed attempt to capture Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa.
“My grandparents were one of the first – if not the first – Asian family to settle in Texas. So, they were one of the original families that started having children in this country,” the 81-year-old said.