The Gold Rush era transformed Alaska, both in terms of economic development and ushering in the first major wave of settlers, and stories of the Gold Rush are most often associated with Alaska and its identification as the “last frontier.” China Joe is a figure who appears in two tales, widely reiterated from the late 1800s to the present: in his generous role as a baker who sustains starving prospectors during a winter freeze, and also as the only Chinese who is allowed to stay in Alaska when the Chinese working in a nearby mine are driven out. I examine China Joe’s story as a frontier intimacy that incorporates him into the family of white male miners, albeit as a racialized and feminized other. The narrative of China Joe’s benevolence collapses when contextualized through a lens of disavowed and contingent violences, specifically the driving out of Chinese in juxtaposition to the lynching of three Tlingit men—the two events taking place within three years of each other in the same Alaskan mining town. I posit the framework of settler colonial space and time to argue that Asian America is always conditioned through settler colonialism and understanding the coherence of immigrant and Indigenous relationalities is necessary to apprehend the U.S. nation’s imperial and settler dimensions.
Juliana Hu Pegues is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of American Indian Studies, the Program in Asian American Studies, and the Race, Indigeneity, Gender and Sexuality (RIGS) Initiative. She is author of numerous articles, in journals such as Amerasia, MELUS, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, and Verge: Studies in Global Asias. She is the co-editor of the special issue “Colonial Unknowing” in Theory & Event and a forthcoming special issue on “Solidarities of Non-Alignment: Abolition, Decolonization, and Anti-Capitalism,” in the journal Critical Ethnic Studies. Dr. Hu Pegues’s current manuscript Settler Space and Time: Race, Indigeneity, and Gender in American Alaska analyzes Asian and Native intersections to demonstrate how the colonization of Alaska was made possible through heteronormative logics that located Asian immigrants and Indigenous inhabitants outside the proper gendered racialization for the state’s settler futurity.