Geographic factors that affected the growth of San Diego's Chinatown related to Los Angeles and San Francisco Open Access
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AbstractGeographic factors that affected the growth of San Diego's Chinatown relative to Los Angeles and San FranciscoThe Chinese Exclusion Laws, which continued from 1882 to 1943, had a major impact on the migration and settlement of the Chinese in the United States. These are summarized in the Literature Review. In San Diego the first geographic factor involved the Chinese fishing and shipbuilding industry. Fishermen had migrated to San Diego Bay in the 1850s and found the area to be an ideal base to establish a fishing industry based on gathering abalone from the Channel Islands and the Baja California coast in Mexico. The 1888 and 1892-3 Chinese Exclusion Laws brought an end to this industry, which had fostered the growth of Chinatown. If the fishermen went beyond the 3-mile territorial limit, they were required to have papers upon their return. Since they were never allowed to have papers, this forced them to sell their junks, which they had built locally, and suspended their industry.During the exclusionary period San Diego's Chinatown evolved in spite of the laws. Merchants were an exempt class and they found a means to grow from the late 1880s to the 1930s by developing partnerships. This was a loophole that they used to make all their employees partners with a required minimum contribution of $1,000. All the merchants sold Chinese lottery tickets which supplemented their income. Chinese language schools were established as the merchants began to have families. The children adapted to their restricted Chinatown environment by remaining below Market Street and playing in the street.When transcontinental railroad development began to link California with the rest of the nation, San Diego had to face the difficulty of penetrating its mountain barrier to the east and the efforts of the railroad barons to bypass San Diego and its superior natural harbor. The story of building the "Impossible Railroad" by John Spreckels describes this dilemma. The lack of this connection allowed Los Angeles and San Francisco to develop industry at San Diego's detriment.The 1915 Panama-California Exposition resulted in a two year effort to clean up its port area, which included Chinatown and the Stingaree redlight district. Substandard housing in Chinatown was demolished without replacement causing a negative impact on its growth. San Diego's Chinatown had received a blow that was close to being fatal.The revitalization of San Diego's Asian Pacific Historic Thematic District in the 1980s by the Centre City Development Corporation had early success in preserving the cultural heritage of the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos in the Chinatown area. Unfortunately, the State of California abolished the re-development projects state-wide and the planned upgrading of this district was one of the final factors in the demise of Chinatown.
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