While versions of Chinatown can be found in virtually every major city, Chinatown in San Francisco is an experience that surpasses them all. Built throughout a period of Chinese migration, this neighborhood is a monument to the history and cultural roots of these immigrants.
This region has maintained its own culture, places of worship, social customs, language and overall sense of identity throughout the years, despite outside influences. While providing affordable housing and sense of cultural identity to elderly immigrants, Chinatown is also a tourist mecca.
Chinatown has two major thoroughfares, Grant Avenue with Dragon Gate and Stockton Street, which mimics Hong Kong. Thus, while Stockton Street has less of a tourist draw, it also has a more authentic Chinese feel with its markets, restaurants and mixed use buildings. In Portsmouth Square, there is a truly open space in Chinatown. A gathering space for residents, it is also home to a replica of the Goddess of Democracy that was used during the Tiananmen Square protest.
History of Chinatown
This beautiful slice of the Chinese culture grew up throughout the decades. Starting in the late 1800s, immigrants from China’s Guangdong province. Here at this port of entry, Chinese immigrants could also own and inherit property in this area. Throughout the following decades, anti-immigration laws came into place, so that the population of Chinatown was its lowest in the 1920s.
Yet this district survived with its culture intact. Organizations banded together to bridge from the Chinese population to the outside world. This influence helped to keep Chinatown in its location after the 1906 earthquake, despite political attempts to move the neighborhood. Eventually, the population swelled with the repeal of the immigration laws in the 1950s. Angel Island, the intake facility for early immigrating Chinese, was made a state park and renovated between 2005 and 2006.
The Cultural Slice of Chinatown, San Francisco
Within this amazing district is a vibrate language, encompassing many different dialects. This mixture reflects the different waves of migration from various areas of China and the surrounding Asian countries. The last wave of Vietnam immigrants provided the Cantonese flavor currently found in Chinatown.
The Autumn Moon Festival is a celebration of the changing of the seasons and the harvest. It features local bazaars, food and entertainment. Mooncakes, a pastry filled with a sweet bean paste and some egg, are a popular treat.
Several different organizations, a majority of them non-profit, have been formed to promote the Chinese culture, as well as work with San Francisco to maintain services to the district.
For a tourist, this is an opportunity to travel around the world without leaving the lower 48 states. Chinatown in San Francisco provides a unique glimpse of the history and heritage of one of the world’s oldest cultures. Those who love westernized Chinese foods, they have Chinatown to thank for the unique hybrid of food and culture.
Throughout the neighborhood, which has grown over the years, the Chinese culture has continued to grow and thrive. As a result, Americans have a living breathing monument of their immigrant culture tucked into the City by The Bay.