Places to Visit to Learn About
Chinese American Immigration
By Kathy Chin Leong
In the Bay Area, Asians are everywhere, from Costco warehouse stores to AMC movie theaters. Chances are that your kids have one or more Asian friends within their circle of buddies. The proliferation of bubble tea houses and Chinese shopping centers prove that not only are we living in a melting pot in Silicon Valley, but that it’s finally cool to be Asian. In the not too distant past, it was not always so. As we head into Chinese New Year, here’s an opportunity to learn more about the Chinese culture, in particular, and to understand what early Chinese endured when they first arrived in America.
History San Jose,Ng Shing Gung Building, San Jose - This two-story brick temple is an authentic re-creation of the “Temple of the Five Gods” that once stood in San Jose’s one and only Chinatown known as Heinlenville in 1888 . This small museum displays a timeline depicting when the first Chinese came to San Jose, photos of local heroes, early tools and artifacts from the 1800s, and ornate carvings from the original temple. A project of the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project (CHCP), the building is open and staffed by volunteers. 1650 Senter Rd., San Jose.
While you are in the area, check out the other buildings that represented cultures that came to San Jose in the nineteenth century. Also nearby is the Japanese tea garden and Happy Hollow Park and Zoo. For tours of the Ng Shing Gung Building: 408/918-1040. General information: 408/298-2290. Call for hours of operation.
Chinese Historical Museum, San Francisco – This kid-friendly museum based in Chinatown features the largest collection of Chinese American artifacts. See the clothing, artwork of Chinese who came to America in the early 1800s. There’s even a military uniform from the first Chinese American who participated in the Civil War. Another section of the museum highlights contemporary celebrities tops in the fields of entertainment, medicine, sports, and other professions.
Consider spending an hour or more here and go outside. Wander Chinatown and take time to soak in the character immating from Chinatown souvenir shops, bakeries, dim sum restaurants, and Chinese produce and butcher shops. Chinese Historical Museum, 963 Clay Street, San Francisco, 415/391-1527.Weekend hours: 12-5 p.m.; Weekdays: 12-4 p.m. Closed Mondays. Admission: $3.
Angel Island, near Tiburon – From 1910 to 1940, Angel Island, known as the Ellis Island of the West, detained over 175,000 Chinese, incarcerating them in barracks. Originally said to be a place for a routine health screening, the Angel Island Immigration Station unjustly detained Chinese for days, months, and up to two years. While the barracks and hospital are undergoing restoration, visitors can still go on docent led tours although they cannot go inside.
The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation has just launched a $50 million campaign to restore these buildings and create a learning center for Pacific Coast immigration. Completion is slated for end of this year.When you come, drive to Tiburon, take the ferry and bring your bike or rent one while you are there. For current Immigration Station tours, call 415/435-3522.
www.chcp.org - Site for the Chinese Historical Cultural Preservation society and the Ng Gung Shing Temple.
www.chinesehistoricalmusem.org - Site for San Francisco’s premier Chinese Historical Museum.
www.angelisland.org - Find out about ferry rides, admission, and details regarding this important place.
Kathy Chin Leong recently completed a story on Chinese American families for Bay Area Parent magazine. It will premiere in February.
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