Chinese Los Angeles

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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The Chinese established their first community in Los Angeles at El Pueblo. By 1870 about 200 Chinese had settled in and near Calle de Los Negros, parallel to today's Los Angeles Street across from the Garnier Building.

They worked as farm laborers, servants, road builders and small shop keepers. From the 1870s the Chinese dominated agriculture as growers, vendors and market proprietors. They distributed their produce from carts around the Plaza. They also operated laundry businesses. As the City expanded beyond El Pueblo, the Chinese filled in the old Plaza. By the 1880s the Chinese occupied three sides of the Plaza and areas to the south and east. In 1888, a laundry was operated on the site of today's Plaza Substation. Merchants owned stored and sold goods for both Chinese and non-Chinese customers along Main, Los Angeles, Alameda and Marchessault Streets. For example, in the 1890s William Lee, owner of Heng Lee Fancy Goods in the Vickrey/Brunswig Building, raised his family in the Pico House across the street from his store.

From 1883 to 1917, five Chinese businesses occupied the Olvera Adobe prior to its replacement by the Plaza Community Center. In its heyday at the turn of the century, Old Chinatown had a population of over 3,000 Chinese. It had eight streets and hundreds of businesses including several restaurants, three temples, eight missionary churches, a Chinese school and a theater for Chinese operas. Although small in number, other Chinese in Old Chinatown held white-collar jobs including a dentist, interpreter, attorney and jeweler. Services provided by the Chinese herbalists were made available to a significant portion of the non-Chinese community. These herbal stores included Young Wo Tong in the Garnier Building and Tai Wo Tong in the Plaza Firehouse.

Chinese were oppressed by anti-Chinese legislative and social discrimination.

In October 1871, a mob of over 500 Angelenos massacred nineteen of their Chinese neighbors. Known as the Chinese Massacre, this remains one of Los Angeles' most serious racial unrests. Lacking police protection and political representation, the Chinese community formed its own organizations for mutual aid and services.

The Garnier Block housed some of the most important organizations in Chinatown including the Lung Kong Tin Yee Association (Four Family Association), the Wong Gong Ha Family Association, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance and their umbrella organization the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.

In the 1930s, the City decded to build Union Station over much of Old Chinatown. In the 1950s, many of the remaining historic buildings were razed for the Hollywood Freeway.

Chinese were forced to relocate. Some moved to West Adams, some to China City between Sprin and Main Streets, and many more to New Chinatown on Broadway. As a result of the Hollywood/Santa Ana Freeway construction in the early 1950s, a third of the Garnier Building and all buildings between Los Angeles and Alameda Streets were demolished.

1880sAnti-Chines violence in California, Colorado, Washington and Wyoming
1882Chinese Exclusion Act - Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act to suspend further immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years. All Chinese residents are denied naturalization. Laborers already in the United States cannot bring their wives and children. Only government officials, teachers, students, merchants and travelers are exempted.
1882Los Angles City Council orders the removal of Chinese from city limits, but the law is ruled invalid because it violates the 14th Amendment and the Burlingame Treaty.
1884Tape v Hurley creates segregated schools for Chinese children until the 1930s.
1886Chinese laundrymen win case in Yick Wo v Hopkins, declaring that a law with unequal impact on different groups is discriminatory.
1886Statue of Liberty erected; Santa Fe railroad brings influx of Midwesterners.
1888A Chinese shrine is added to Evergreen Cemetery in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. The Scott Act prohibits the return of 20,000 Chinese laborers who had left the United Sates.
1890Way Leung Kung Saw, the predecessor of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, is formed to protect the welfare of Chinese in Los Angeles.
1892Geary Law renews Chinese exclusion for another ten years and requires all Chinese to register. Local Chinese refuse to comply.
1893 - 1897Stock market crashes and the country enters another depression.
1895Native Sons of the Golden State is founded by California-born Chinese. The Sons formed to protect and defend the civil rights of Chinese Americans. Later established as the Chinese American Citizens Alliance in 1915.
1894 - 1895Chinese-Japanese War - China loses Taiwan to Japan.
1896US Supreme Court rules in Plessy v Ferguson to legalize institutional segregation.
1898Wong Kim Ark v US decides that anyone born in the United States cannot be stripped of citizenship.
1898Los Angeles' first Chinese newspaper, Wah Mei Sun Po, is founded by Ng Poon Chew, a Presbyterian minister.
1900 - 1901China's anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion ends in defeat.
1907Gentlemen's Agreement ends new Japanese immigration to the United States, but allows Japanese American family reunification.
1909National Association for the Advancement of Colored People established.
1900A Chinese American corps of anti-Qing cadets forms at the Western Military Academy in Los Angeles to aid in the revolution.
1902Chinese exclusion extended for another ten years.
1904Sun Yat-Sen visits Los Angeles to seek support for the revolution in China.
1904Chinese exclusion made indefinite.
1906San Francisco earthquake and fire destroys Chinese immigration records.
1909Chinese and other vegetable growers build the City Market at Ninth and San Pedro Streets.
1910Angel Island Immigration Station in the San Francisco Bay opens to process all incoming Chinese immigrants.
1911Qing dynasty ends.
1912Republic of China - Sun Yat-Sen establishes Republic of China.
1912The Native Sons of the Golden State establish a Los Angeles lodge in Chinatown.
1913California's Alien Land Law prohibits "aliens ineligible to citizenship" from buying land or leasing it for longer than three years.
1914 - 1918World War I - American servicemen of Asian ancestry receive the right of naturalization.
1917Immigration Law defines an "Asiatic barred zone" to prohibit all Asian immigration.
1919Chinese American actress Anna May Wong stars in her first film, The Red Lantern.
1927Nationalist-Communist civil war begins in China.
1922Cable Act establishes that any American female citizen who marries an alien ineligible for citizenship would lose her own citizenship.
1924Asian Exclusion Act bars the entry of all aliens ineligible for citizenship. Alien wives of Chinese residents are barred from entering the US.
1925You Chung Hong is the first Chinese American to pass the bar exam in Southern California. He establishes his legal practice specializing in immigration law two years later.
1925Peter Soo Hoo is hired by the Department of Water and Power, becoming the first Chinese American employee to work for the City of Los Angeles.
1929Chiang Kai-Shek becomes President of China.
1929Japanese American Citizens League is established.
1929 - 1939The US Stock Market crash leads to the Great Depression.
1933 - 1941President Franklin D Roosevelt implements his "New Deal" plan.
1937Sino-Japanese War begins.
1939 - 1945World War II - Chinese Americans participate in the US Armed Forces.
1940Angel Island Immigration Station closes.
1931Mei Wah Club is a social, athletic organization for Chinese American women in Los Angeles.
1933 - 1936Part of Chinatown is condemned and razed to make way for Union Station. For these and following years, Chinese Americans move to City Market, East Adams and Spring Street areas due to continuing destruction of the original Chinatown.
1938The City's ongoing destruction of the original Chinatown prompts the displaced Chinese American community to develop New Chinatown. Also, Olvera Street founder Mrs Christine Sterling develops China City. New Chinatown and China City open in June within three weeks of each other.
1939Union Station opens where the original Chinatown once was.
1941Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. China and the US become allies against a common enemy: the Japanese.
1942President Franklin D Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans.
1943Servicemen stationed in Chavez Ravine spark Zoot Suit Riots.
1943Madame Chiang Kai-Shek comes to the United States to appeal to Congress to strike down all Chinese exclusion laws and to solicit American support for the Chinese war relief effort. Hundreds of Angelenos gathered in front of the Garnier Building to welcome Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, who visited Los Angeles to thank the United States for its support of China's war effort.
1943Congress repeals the Chinese Exclusion Laws.
1945War Brides & Fiancees Act allows Chinese American veterans to bring their brides to the US.
1945US drops atomic bomb on Japan. Japan surrenders and World War II ends.
1948Displaced Persons Act grants resident status to 5,000 Chinese scholars already in the US after the communist government comes to power in China.
1948California repeals its anti-miscegination law.
1949Chinese Communists establish the People's Republic of China, while the Nationalists move the Republic of China to Taiwan.
1950sAmid the Cold War hysteria, American conservatives suspect Chinese Americans as possible communist sympathizers, and push for deportation of certain Chinese Americans.
1950 - 1953Korean War - Chinese Americans participate in the US Armed Forces.
1952Remainder of Los Angeles' original Chinatown is destroyed to make way for the Santa Ana / Hollywood Freeway.
1952McCarran-Walter Act grants limited immigration for Chinese family reunification in the US.
1954Supreme Court decision Brown v Board of Education declares that racially segregated facilities are inherently unequal and all public schools are desegragated.
1955Chinese American cinematographer James Wong Howe wins an Oscar for his work on The Rose Tattoo.
1956California repeals its Alien Land Laws.
1959Judge Delbert Wong becomes the first Chinese American to be appointed as a judge of any court in the continental US.
1959Hiram Fong is the first Asian American elected to the US Senate (Hawaii).
1959 - 1966The Confession Program allows Chinese immigrants who used assumed identities ("Paper Sons and Daughters") to readjust their immigration status in exchange for a confession of their true identities to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
1960 - 1975Vietnam War
1960sCivil Rights Movement - The Civil Rights Movement brings many vocal groups together to fight discrimination against minorities, end racial segregation, and bring civil rights and social equality.
1962US admits 15,000 Chinese refugees from Hong Kong.
1963Martin Luther King Jr delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
1965Immigration and Nationality Act repeals national origins quota system and opens the door to Chinese and other non-European immigration.
1965Local outrage at a racially motivated traffic stop in Watts leads to six days of street rioting.
1966The Cultural Revolution in the People's Republic of China seeks to eliminate political dissidents.
1968Students strike at San Francisco State University to demand the establishment of ethnic studies programs.
1969Apollo 11 astronauts land on the moon.
1970Many new Chinese immigrants settle in the San Gabriel Valley, San Fernando Valley and South Bay.
1971United Nations admits the People's Republic of CHina and expels Taiwan.
1972President Nixon visits the People's Republic of China.
1974March Fong Eu is the first Chinese American woman elected California's Secretary of State.
1974Lau v Nichols rules that school districts with children who speak little English must provide bilingual education.
1975Fall of Siagon and the end of the Vietnam War.
1975Chinese Historical Society of Southern California is established.
1976Maxine Hong Kingston's book The Woman Warrior becomes a best-selling novel.
1978US and People's Republic of China normalize diplomatic relations, allowing members of long-separated Chinese American families to be reunited.
1979Large influx of Chinese Southeast Asian refugees to Los Angeles' New Chinatown.
1981Congressional hearings across the US condemn wartime internment of Japanese Americans.
1982Two unemployed autoworkers in Detroit, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, beat Vincent Chin to death with a baseball bat because they thought he was Japanese. Neither man served jail time for Chin's murder. Anti-Asian violence was on the rise nationwide.
1982Chinese American artist Maya Lin designs the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial.
1982Lily Lee Chen is elected to Monterey Park City Council and becomes the first Asian American woman mayor a year later.
1983Asian Pacific American Legal Cener opens to advocate immigrant and civil rights, and community empowerment.
1985California's Chinese Roast Duck Bill allows Chinese retaurant owners to prepare and display roast duck according to Chinese tradition.
1986Immigration Act raises annual immigration to the US and provides amnesty to illegal immigrants.
1987Judge Ronald S W Lew is the first Chinese American Federal District Judge in the continental US.
1989The Chinese military crushes a massive Democracy Movement demonstration in Beijing's Tienanmen Square.
1989Berlin Wall falls, signaling end of the Cold War.
1990Immigration Act authorizes visas to 10,000 immigrants seeking to invest $1,000,000 each in commercial enterprise.
1990Michael Chang becomes the youngest French Open/Grand Slam champion.
1992North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiated.
1992News of a "not guilty" verdict in the Rodney King police brutality case sparks four days of riots throughout LA's metropolitan area.
1993Michael Woo, the first Chinese American elected to the Los Angeles City Council, runs for Mayor.
1994California voters pass Proposition 187 to deny undocumented immigrants education, health and social services.
1995Matt Fond is the first Asian American elected Treasurer of California.
1996Gary Locke is elected governor of Washington. He is the first Asian American governor on the mainland.
1996Californians vote to end affirmative action with Proposition 209.
1997Chinese American scientist David Ho is named Time Magazine's Man of the Year for his groundbreaking AIDS research.
1997After 99 years of occupation, the British return Hong Kong to China.
1998Over fifty social and cultural organizations form the Taiwan Center Foundation of Greater Los Angeles.
1999David Wu is the first Chinese American Congressman (Oregon).
2000Nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee is released after nine months of solitary confinement on charges of espionage.
2001September 11th attacks.
2002Iraq War - US declares war on Iraq.
2002Judge Debra W Yang is the first female and the first Asian American to be appointed United States Attorney.
2003California ice skater Michelle Kwan wins her fifth World Championship gold medal and seventh US National gold medal.
2003Chinese American Museum opens in Los Angeles' original Chinatown neighborhood.