To fully appreciate the beautiful and unique influence Asian communities have on our city, we must empathetically appreciate the struggle they experienced.
Stockton is a city fueled by a diverse and interconnected community. A city so diverse, that it was recognized by a national news outlet—you can read about that here. Like many American cities, immigrant cultures have experienced an uphill battle with being accepted in their communities. In Stockton, our Asian communities—primarily of Filipino, Chinese, and Japanese descent—have faced a history of prejudice, injustice, and near exile from the city and county. To honor the progress our community has made, here’s a look back at what Asian communities faced in the past.
不怕慢, 就怕停 (Bùpà màn, jiù pà tíng.) – “Don't be afraid of slowness, be afraid of stopping.”
Chinese immigrants made their way to California during the Gold Rush. Arriving in San Francisco, they would travel through Stockton before hitting the mountainous peaks. Many decided to remain in the city and by 1850, Stockton had become a primary center for Chinese immigrants. However, over a few decades, white residents of Stockton would take issue with the Chinese in Stockton. In 1880, an anti-Chinese public meeting of 300 residents at City Hall proposed creating “devilishly uncomfortable” city ordinances towards the Chinese. Ordinances that would force immigrants to “self-deport” from the city. Even with the help of local landlord Rosanna Farrington—an ally to her Chinese tenants—these unjust laws were passed. Ordinances that included no open cooking, no operating laundries, no fishing, no ethnic hair styling, no firecrackers, no interracial marriage, as well as Chinese children prohibited from attending white schools and heavier taxes on Chinese miners.
After years of appeals, Circuit Judge Lorenzo Sawyer strongly disapproved of these actions that “extinguished ordinary and blameless” business vital to human life. In 1886, the case reached the Supreme Court. There, the justices deemed these ordinances unconstitutional and terminated them. At the following 4th of July parade, Chinese immigrants were invited to partake in the event. As a celebration of their victory and a show of prideful solidarity, the Chinese made their presence felt. Their additions to the parade included two orchestras, Chinese men dressed as ancient warriors, traditionally attired women in carriage, prominent Chinese businessmen, and a woman warrior in full military gear on horseback.
For more on Chinese American history, visit the CHSA.
Ang isang matapang na tao ay haharap sa isang sitwasyon gaano man kakila-kilabot. – “A brave person will face a situation no matter how dreadful.”
Filipino immigration began early in the 1900s, shortly after the US took over the Philippines—a result of the US victory in the Spanish-American War, the Treaty of Paris, and the Philippines’ declaration of independence being stripped in the Philippine-American War. By the 1920s, Stockton became a hub for Filipino immigrants with many residing on the stretch of several blocks on El Dorado. This spot south of Main Street would be referred to as Little Manila, an area where Filipino Americans could feel safe—especially since everything north of Main Street was deemed “unsafe for people of color.” The same prejudice and injustice that struck the Chinese would also be directed at Filipinos, so Little Manila provided a barrier for their community. By 1930, 45,000 Filipinos lived in the US, with 25,000 of them working the crops of San Joaquin County. However, the construction of Crosstown Highway 4 would pummel through the middle of Little Manila as well as Chinatown and Japantown, displacing many in the community.
For more on Filipino American history, visit FAHNS.
人は外の広い世界を知らずに、自分の経験で物事を判断する (Hito wa soto no hiroi sekai o shirazu ni, jibun no keiken de monogoto o handan suru.) – “People judge things by their own experience, not knowing of the wide world outside.”
Prejudice toward the Japanese dates back to the Progressive Era, where children in schools were taught that the Japanese were a natural enemy, using the Japanese victory over Russia in 1905 as an example. 1913 saw the passing of the Asian Land Law, which forbid Japanese from owning land on the Delta, while 1919 saw the creation of a statewide anti-Japanese organization that opposed Japanese farmers taking over orchards and Delta farms.
This bigotry became amplified after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Wild conspiracy theories would circulate (sound familiar?) regarding Japanese spies using light signals, which eventually led to Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19, 1942. EO 9066—which was heavily supported by politicians and officials including Attorney General Earl Warren—ordered the immediate interment of all Japanese immigrants in the US. Between 110,000 and 120,000 men, women, and children were incarcerated and relocated to internment camps across the country. Businesses were boarded up, families were split, and lives were forever traumatically altered.
During this time, there were seven confirmed deaths by gunfire at the Japanese Internment Camps. At the trial for the killing of Shoichi James Okamoto, the sentry guard who shot him was acquitted of the homicide but did receive a fine; a fine of $1, which was the cost of the bullet that was said to be “fired in an unauthorized use of government property."
For more on preserving Japanese American stories, visit Densho.
While progress is never ending and there is still much to do, the influence of Asian cultures is strong in the bloodline of Stockton. The Chinese Benevolent Association was established in 1924 with a purpose of creating a focal point for Stockton’s Chinese community and “promote the welfare of the Chinese community together with other organizations and for the awareness and appreciation of the Chinese Culture.” As is the Chinese Cultural Society, which became a non-profit organization in 1979.
The Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) was founded here in 1987 with a mission "to promote the narrative of Filipino American experiences through preservation, inspiration, and education." Its museum, located in the Newberry building on Weber Ave, had its grand opening in October of 2016—a successful undertaking after twenty years of planning and fundraising.
The Japanese American Citizens League, formed nationally in 1929, has a district right here in Stockton. Moreover, The Central Valley Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, formed here in March 2000, is a non-profit 501(c)6 organization focused on "improving and expanding the overall leadership of the region’s Asian-American community."
Along with these organizations is a multitude of landmarks and staples that promote the beauty and importance of Asian cultures. Such spots include:
Additionally, Stockton is stocked full of vibrant Asian flavor thanks to the cuisine and celebrations located within our city limits, which include the aforementioned cultures as well as Korean and Vietnamese. Spots like Dave Wong’s, Misaki, Papa Urb’s, China Palace Restaurant, Pampanga’s Bakery & Restaurant, Cocoro Japanese Bistro, Pho Lucky Noodle House, Bayon Restaurant, Bonchon, Domo Japanese Sushi, Dynasty Seafood, and so much more.
Check out all our restaurants here!
Stockton is also a home to amazing annual Asian celebrations that include the Lunar New Year, the Cambodian New Year celebration, The Stockton Buddhist Temple Japanese Food Festival & Bon Odori, the Filipino American History Month (FAHM) Fest Stockton, Diwali, and Hmong New Year.
Check out all our annual events here!
Stockton has evolved into a home for diverse cultures. A place where inclusivity is a key component to Port City’s DNA. Learning from our past helps to build a stronger, accepting future—a future of different creeds and colors. A foundation held together by the strength of its people, which includes the influence and resilience of our Asian communities.
The historical information detailed above came from the listed and linked organizations as well as from Competing Voices: A Critical History of Stockton, California—a detailed account of Stockton's past written by Ronald Eugene Isetti.
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