There are a over a hundred years of propaganda and policy behind the idea that sex workers and immigrants “infect” communities. Asian women in particular have been fetishized and demonized, becoming the first targets of anti-prostitution and anti-immigration laws in the United States.
When Ah Toy immigrated to the US in 1848, she worked openly as a sex worker in San Francisco, California. She, often successfully, defended herself against fraudsters and threats of violence by going to court. But in 1854, People vs. Hall declared that Asian people, like Black and Indigenous people, could no longer testify in court. Racist rhetoric, laws, and daily harassment reached a tipping point. The press and the public turned on Ah Toy, and others like her.
In 1875, the Page Act barred Asian women from entering the country, for presumed “lewd and immoral purposes,” and police officers began arresting droves of Asian women for prostitution. US officials openly hoped that by driving out Asian women, they could prevent Asian people from settling and starting families here. Less than a decade later, the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which is exactly what it sounds like.