Li Yang

Li Yang: Faculty Associate, Arizona State University

Wednesday, May 19th,


a Zoom webinar*

Note special time.

Although General John “Black Jack” Pershing is likely the most famous American military man of the First World War, few people have heard of Pershing’s “Chinese men.” On March 9,1916, the Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa crossed the Mexican border into the US,  attacking the garrison settlement of Columbus, NM, and killing 18 soldiers and civilians. President Woodrow Wilson ordered Pershing to pursue and capture Villa and his men in a “Punitive Expedition.”

Although eager to take on the assignment, Pershing had a serious problem. He and his troops would have to travel deep into northern Mexico, far away from US Army supply lines. He put an ad in local papers and received offers from several hundred Chinese small businesses in the region. These immigrants prepared camp sites, provided hot, healthy meals and clean water, laundered and provided sutler services, selling amenities like soap, towels, tobacco, matches and sweets.

When Pershing withdrew from Mexico a year later, not having caught Villa, he petitioned for asylum for his Chinese Mexican immigrants, whose lives were now in danger, but who were barred from the US by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. His petition was granted and the Chinese were sent to Ft. Sam Houston TX where they were confined, providing unpaid labor, until 1921, when legislation was passed allowing them to live anywhere in the US, but not granting them citizenship.

Li Yang will review the Chinese Exclusion Act and give us insight into Pershing’s Chinese who settled in Arizona. One of those who played a significant role in the development and growth of Tucson was her relative, Lee Wee Kwon.

 Li is a faculty associate at ASU in Tempe. She received her doctorate in East Asian Studies from UA in 2004. She has published numerous articles in major magazines and newspapers in the US and China. 

 Written by Roxy Mitchem-Horn, Academy Village Volunteer

*For access to the Zoom Webinar, please write 


May 19: “Pershing’s Chinese Asylum Seekers amid Chinese Exclusion”