Let's Go to Chinatown Los Angeles!
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[Metro line Chinatown Station]
Chinatown Los Angeles as we know it today is actually 'New' Chinatown and has a lengthy history of coming to be! What an exponential loss it would have been for everyone who lives or visits LA, if the Chinese Americans of the time hadn’t worked and fought hard to make Chinatown a reality!
Come along with me as I discover the history of Old and New Chinatown, how the Exclusion Act of 1882 impacted its founding, how descendants of Chinese immigrants keep the traditions alive and how you can help preserve and sustain this and Chinatowns across the US!
[New Chinatown Mural, Chinatown LA]
IMMIGRATION AND THE EXCLUSION ACT OF 1882
While the Opium Wars were raging between China and Great Britain in the mid 1800s, the citizens of China were impacted by floods and drought, combined with the country’s decline into debt, many Chinese farmers and their families were out of work.
During this same time California was experiencing its Gold Rush and so some Chinese immigrated to the US in hopes for finding gold and starting a new life. However, when they arrived, over some 20,000 through San Francisco in 1852, it was anything but open and welcoming arms from Americans. Racially charged violence, discriminatory taxation and the inability to testify for ones self in court made life in this new world even more of a challenge than it needed to be. American citizens pleaded with the government to take a stand for white supremacy and in 1882 then President Chester A. Arthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act with the intent of stopping the influx of immigrant from China, as well as barring the current Chinese immigrants from gaining citizenship.
It was the first time in history a country made it illegal for a specific race of people to immigrate and it lasted for 60 terrible years. During this time the racial violence, discrimination and injustice against persons of Chinese descent, as well as those mistaken for Chinese immigrants, was seemingly permitted to rage on with little to no real repercussions against assailants, usually of the white race.
[Art Salon Chinatown, Chinatown LA]
The stipulations of The Chinese Exclusion Act included everything from what classification of Chinese immigrant could or could not immigrate to the US, such as laborers versus merchants, diplomats, students, clergymen and travelers, up to and including barring women and children from immigrating in the politicians effort to prevent Chinese families from being started and putting down roots in America.
(If you’re interested in reading more about the lengthy history and facts about of the exclusion of Chinese women in America, I highly recommend the book ‘Entry denied : exclusion and the Chinese community in America, 1882-1943 edited by Sucheng Chan’, specifically chapter 4 written by Sucheng Chan, ‘The Exclusion of Chinese Women, 1870-1943’.)
[Mandarin Plaza, Chinatown LA]
OLD CHINATOWN TAKES ROOT
By the 1870’s an identifiable Chinatown in Los Angeles began to form. Being only a short alley about 50 ft wide and one block long, what is now considered ‘Old’ Chinatown housed about 200 Chinese residents and businesses consisting of laundromats, produce vendors and various other shops.
As Chinatown grew into the early 20th century it not only boasted a population that swelled to over 3,000 people but also 15 or so streets, 200 building units, a sophisticated Chinese Opera Theater, 3 temples, a newspaper and its own telephone exchange! Acknowledged as Chinatown from 1890 to 1910, it also became a popular stop for the first breed of American tourists!
To find out what happened to Old Chinatown and the founding of New Chinatown, watch my episode on Chinatown on my youtube channel!
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(references cited in youtube video description)