Photo credit: David Martínez
As the oldest Chinatown in the United States, established in 1848, the twenty-four square blocks that compose San Francisco’s Chinatown is a symbol of the resiliency of the immigrant experience in the middle of what was once Ohlone Indian land, but which is now under layers of Spanish, Mexican, and American colonization.
Chinatown is, on the one hand, a product of American race laws, such as the 1879 Chinese Exclusion Act, which severely limited Chinese immigration, and local ordinances that barred non-whites from accessing white American neighborhoods and business sectors. On the other hand, Chinatown is a major political and cultural enclave. As such, it has become a nation within a nation, complete with a vibrant economy, cultural institutions, and a form of local governance, namely the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and the Chinatown Community Development Center.
When my wife and I stayed at the Orchard Garden Hotel, at the corner of Bush & Grant, we were just a few steps away from the Dragon Gate. Designed by Clayton Lee, the gate has stood as a portal—really three portals—into Chinatown since 1970. To pass through this gate is to literally walk into another world, one defined by roughly 15,000 residents speaking the major dialects of China (Mandarin and Cantonese). Fortunately, for the tourist, one doesn’t need to be fluent in the language in order to enjoy this magnificent place filled with shops, restaurants, and parks. And oh the food and the people watching! A feast for the senses. Please click on the photo above to access my Chinatown photo album on flickr.