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Chinatown
—  Neighborhood of San Francisco  —
A Gateway Arch (dragon gate) on Grant Avenue at Bush Street in the Chinatown
Government
 - Board of Supervisors David Chiu
 - State Assembly Tom Ammiano (D)
 - State Senate Mark Leno (D)
 - U.S. House Nancy Pelosi (D)
Area
 - Total 2 km2 (0.778 sq mi)
 - Land 2 km2 (0.778 sq mi)
Population (2000)[1]
 - Total 100,574
 Density 49,912.6/km2 (129,273/sq mi)
ZIP Code 94108, 94111, 94104, 94133
Area code(s) 415

San Francisco's Chinatown (Chinese: 唐人街Mandarin Pinyin: tángrénjiēJyutping: tong4 jan4 gaai1) is the oldest Chinatown in North America and one of "the largest Chinese communities outside Asia".[2] Since its establishment in the 1840s, it has been highly important and influential in the history and culture of ethnic Chinese immigrants to the United Stated and North America. In addition to it being a starting point and home for thousands of Chinese immigrants, it is also a major tourist attraction — as its shops, restaurants, and attractions draw more visitors annually to the neighborhood than the Golden Gate Bridge.[3]

Contents

Neighborhood & Characteristics

Grant Avenue
Grant Avenue during Chinese New Year.

Chinatown has been traditionally defined by the neighborhoods of North Beach, and Telegraph Hill areas as bound by Bush Street, Taylor Street, Bay Street, and the water.[4] Officially, Chinatown is located in downtown San Francisco, and overlaps five Postal ZIP Codes. It is within an area of roughly 1 mile long by 1.34 miles wide. The current boundary is roughly Montgomery Street, Columbus Avenue and The City's Financial District in the East, Union Street and North Beach in the North all the way to its Northernmost point from the intersection of Jones Street and Lombard Street in Russian Hill to Lombard Street and Grant Avenue (都板街) in Telegraph Hill. The Southeast is bounded by Bush Street with Union Square.

Within Chinatown there are two major thoroughfares. One is Grant Avenue (都板街), with the Dragon gate (aka "Chinatown Gate" on some maps) on the corner of Bush Street and Grant Avenue; St. Mary's Square with a statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen; a war memorial to Chinese war veterans; and stores, restaurants and mini-malls that cater mainly to tourists. The other, Stockton Street (市德頓街), is frequented less often by tourists, and it presents an authentic Chinese look and feel, reminiscent of Hong Kong, with its produce and fish markets, stores, and restaurants. Chinatown has smaller side streets and alleyways providing character.

A major focal point in Chinatown is Portsmouth Square. Due to its being one of the few open spaces in Chinatown, Portsmouth Square bustles with activity such as Tai Chi and old men playing Chinese chess. A replica of the Goddess of Democracy used in the Tiananmen Square protest was built in 1999 by Thomas Marsh, and stands in the square. It is made of bronze and weighs approximately 600 lb (270 kg).

Demographics

Chinatown is the most densely populated neighborhood in the city and one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the United States. Its estimated population in the 2000 census was at 100,574 residents which accounts for two thirds of the overall ethnic Chinese population in San Francisco.<[5] It is also one of the poorer to more middle class sections of the city, with neighborhood median household incomes averaging out at $42,153,[6] though higher than the national average, is still lower than the citywide average income of $73,798. [7]

Many working-class Hong Kong Chinese immigrants began arriving in large numbers in the 1960s and despite their status and professions in Hong Kong, had to find low-paying employment in restaurants and garment factories in Chinatown because of limited English fluency. However, in recent decades, Chinatown has had a growing population of Fujian-dialect speakers.[8] An increase in Cantonese-speaking immigrants from Hong Kong and Mainland China has gradually led to the replacement of the Taishanese dialect with the Hong Kong Cantonese dialect as a lingua franca[citation needed].

While the neighborhood continues to receive newer immigrants and maintains a lively and active character, suburban flight has left the neighborhood relatively poor, decrepit in many parts, and largely elderly.

Due to such overcrowding and poverty, other unofficial chinatowns have been established within the city of San Francisco proper, including one in its Richmond and three more in its Sunset districts, as well as a recently established one in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood. These outer neighborhoods have been settled largely by Chinese from Southeast Asia. There are also many suburban Chinese communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially in Silicon Valley, such as Cupertino, Fremont, and Milpitas, where Taiwanese Americans are dominant. Despite these developments, many continue to commute in from these outer neighborhoods and cities to shop in Chinatown, causing gridlock on roads and delays in public transit, especially on weekends. To address this problem, the local public transit agency, Muni, is planning to extend the city's subway network to the neighborhood via the new Central Subway.[8]

Unlike in most Chinatowns in North America, ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam have not established businesses in San Francisco's Chinatown district, due to high property values and rents. Instead, many Chinese-Vietnamese – as opposed to ethnic Vietnamese who tended to congregate in larger numbers in San Jose – have established a separate Vietnamese enclave on Larkin Street in the heavily working-class Tenderloin district of San Francisco, where it is now known as the city's "Little Saigon" and not as a "Chinatown" per se. As with historic Chinatown, Little Saigon plans to construct an arch signifying its entrance, as well as directional street signs leading to the community.

History

San Francisco Chinese funeral 1903.ogv
1903 Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue). The Chinese Funeral of Tom Kim Yung (1858-1903)
The Street of Gamblers (Ross Alley) Arnold Genthe, 1898. The population was predominantly male because U.S. policies at the time made it difficult for Chinese women to enter the country.
The headquarters of the Chinese Six Companies in San Francisco.

San Francisco's Chinatown was the port of entry for early Taishanese and Zhongshanese[citation needed] Chinese immigrants from the southern Guangdong province of China from the 1850s to the 1900s. The area was the one geographical region deeded by the city government and private property owners which allowed Chinese persons to inherit and inhabit dwellings within the city. The majority of these Chinese shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and hired workers in San Francisco Chinatown were predominantly Taishanese and male. Many Chinese found jobs working for large companies seeking a source of cheap labor, most famously as part of the Central Pacific on the Transcontinental Railroad. Other early immigrants worked as mine workers or independent prospectors hoping to strike it rich during the 1849 Gold Rush. With national unemployment in the wake of the Panic of 1873, racial tensions in the city boiled over into full blown race riots. In response to the violence, the Consolidated Chinese Benevolent Association or the Chinese Six Companies, which evolved out of the labor recruiting organizations for different areas of Guangdong, was created as a means of providing the community with a unified voice. The heads of these companies were the leaders of the Chinese merchants, who represented the Chinese community in front of the business community as a whole and the city government. The anti-immigrant sentiment became law as the United States Government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 – the first immigration restriction law aimed at a single ethnic group. This law, along with other immigration restriction laws such as the Geary Act, greatly reduced the numbers of Chinese allowed into the country and the city, and in theory limited Chinese immigration to single males only. Exceptions were in fact granted to the families of wealthy merchants, but the law was still effective enough to reduce the population of the neighborhood to an all time low in the 1920s. The exclusion act was repealed during World War II under the Magnuson Act in recognition of the important role of China as an ally in the war, although tight quotas still applied. Not unlike much of San Francisco, a period of criminality ensued in some tongs on the produce of smuggling, gambling and prostitution, and by the early 1880s, the population had adopted the term Tong war to describe periods of violence in Chinatown, the San Francisco Police Department had established its so-called Chinatown Squad. One of the more successful sergeants, Jack Manion, was appointed in 1921 and served for two decades. The squad was finally disbanded in August 1955 by Police Chief George Healey, upon the request of the influential Chinese World newspaper, which had editorialized that the squad was an "affront to Americans of Chinese descent".[9] The neighborhood was completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake that leveled most of the city. During the city's rebuilding process, certain city planners and real-estate developers had hatched plans to move Chinatown to the Hunters Point neighborhood at the southern edge of the city, even further south in Daly City; and the neighborhood wt. Their plans failed as the Chinese, particularly with the efforts of Consolidated Chinese Six companies, the Chinese government, and American commercial interests reclaimed would then be absorbed into the financial district the neighborhood and convinced the city government to relent. Part of their efforts in doing so was to plan and rebuild the neighborhood as a western friendly tourist attraction. The rebuilt area that is seen today, resembles such plans.[10] Many early Chinese immigrants to San Francisco and beyond were processed at Angel Island, now a state park, in the San Francisco Bay. Unlike Ellis Island in the East where prospective European immigrants might be held for up to a week, Angel Island typically detained Chinese immigrants for months while they were interrogated closely to validate their papers. The detention facility has been renovated in 2005 and 2006 under a federal grant.

The repeal of the Exclusion act and the other immigration restriction laws, in conjunction passage of the War Brides Act, allowed Chinese-American veterans to bring their families outside of national quotas, led to a major population boom in the area during the 1950s. In the 1960s, the shifting of underutilized national immigration quotas brought in another huge wave of immigrants mostly from Hong Kong, which changed San Francisco Chinatown from predominantly Taishan-speaking to Cantonese-speaking. The end of the Vietnam War brought a wave of Vietnamese refugees of Chinese descent, who put their own stamp on San Francisco Chinatown. There were areas where many Chinese in Northern California living outside of San Francisco Chinatown, could maintain small communities or even individual business, but except for Oakland, they did not set up any special town with shopping and restaurants. Nonetheless, the historic rights of property owners to deed or sell their property to whom was exercised in sufficient numbers to keep the Chinese community from spreading outside of its early development. However, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for property owners to deed their rights so that certain groups were excluded. These rulings allowed the enlargement of Chinatown and an increase of the Chinese population of the city. At the same time, the declining white population of the city as a result of White Flight combined to change the demographics of the city. Neighborhoods that were once predominately white, such as Richmond District and Sunset District and in other suburbs across the San Francisco Bay Area became centers of new Chinese immigrant communities. This included new immigrant groups such as Mandarin-speaking immigrants from Taiwan who have tended to settled in suburban Millbrae, Cupertino, Milpitas, and Mountain View – avoiding San Francisco as well as Oakland entirely. This suburbanization continues today.

With these changes came a weakening of the Tongs traditional grip on Chinese life. The newer Chinese groups often came from areas outside of the Tongs control. As a result, the influence of the Tongs and criminal groups associated with them, such as the Triads, grew weaker in Chinatown and the Chinese community in general. However, the presence of the Triads remained significant in the immigrant community, and in the summer of 1977, an ongoing rivalry between two Triads erupted in violence and bloodshed, culminating in a shooting spree at the Golden Dragon Restaurant on Washington Street (華盛頓街). Five persons were killed and 11 were wounded, and the incident has become infamously known as the Golden Dragon massacre. The restaurant still stands today and remains a popular dim sum restaurant for tourists.

Culture

Woh Hei Yuen Park located in San Francisco's Chinatown
The North America headquarters of the Kuomintang located in Chinatown

Chinatown's cultural character has also been a major focal point in Chinese American and Asian American culture. Noted Chinese American writers grew up there such as Russell Leong, to The Joy Luck Club author Amy Tan whose experiences growing up in the neighborhood formed the basis of the famous book and film.

San Francisco's Chinatown is home to the well-known and historic Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (known as the Chinese Six Companies), which is the umbrella organization for local Chinese family and regional associations in Chinatown. It has spawned lodges in other Chinatowns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Chinatown, Los Angeles and Chinatown, Portland.

Chinatown restaurants are considered to be the birthplace of Westernized Chinese cuisine such as food items like Chop Suey while introducing and popularizing Dim Sum to Western and American tastes, as its Dim Sum tea houses are a major tourist attraction. Many of its restaurants have been featured in many food television programs dealing with ethnic Chinese cuisine such as Martin Yan's Martin Yan - Quick & Easy.

The Chinatown has served as a backdrop for several movies, television shows, and documentaries ranging from the Maltese Falcon, Big Trouble in Little China, to The Pursuit of Happyness.

The Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco is a major community-based, non-profit organization established in 1965 to foster the understanding and appreciation of Chinese and Chinese American art, history, and culture in the United States. The facilities of the Center, totaling 20,000 square feet (2,000 m2), include a 299-seat auditorium, a 2,935-square-foot (273 m2) gallery, book shop, classroom, and offices. Centrally located between Chinatown and the Financial District, the Center attracts a broad spectrum of audiences from the Chinese community, the city at large, and the greater Bay Area, as well as visitors from all over the country.

See also

References

Readings

  • Chinn, Thomas W. Bridging the Pacific: San Francisco Chinatown and its People. Chinese Historical Society of America, 1989. ISBN 0-9614198-3-0, ISBN 0-9614198-4-9 PB
  • Tsui, Bonnie. American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009 ISBN 978-1-4165-5723-4 Official website

External links

Coordinates: 37°47′41″N 122°24′26″W / 37.79472°N 122.40722°W / 37.79472; -122.40722








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