The San Gabriel Valley is just like any other suburb in America. Life revolves around family and school; the social fabric is woven over cheap eats at the mall. But unlike most suburbs in America, the San Gabriel Valley is home to the largest Chinese diaspora in the country. In fact, eight of the region’s cities are majority Asian. That makes the “SGV” one of the few places where being Asian American is the norm – but where there is no normal version of being Asian American.
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Here's an old but classic book on Chinese American history. This awesome book is composed of three sections: The Chinese Who Discovered America, The Chinese Who Built America and The Chinese Who Became America.
In the first section (The Chinese Who Discovered American) author Stan Steiner includes a lot interesting information on how the Chinese came to explore the Americas before and after Columbus.
In the second section (The Chinese Who Built America) Steiner elaborates on the history of the Chinese in building the railroads and levees of the United States.
Here's an excerpt from the book comparing the Chinese Filipino community and the Chinese American community:
"The Spaniards... needed skilled professionals to conduct trade and to build ships, and so they recruited and hired thousands of Chinese, mostly from Canton. By 1586 there were said to be ten thousand Chinese in Manila alone. By 1600, after twelve thousand had been deported to China, it was said as many remained. And by 1747, the population of the city consisted of forty thousand Chinese and a few hundred Spaniards.
"Men of Canton largely built the city of Manila, as they had so many cities of Southeast Asia. But even though they outnumbered the Spaniards by more than one hundred to one, it never became an overseas Chinese city. The Spaniards saw to that. Since the industrious emigrants from Canton soon dominated retail trade, farming, and manufacturing, the king of Spain, in 1628, decided that they were a "great peril to the Spanish population."
"And yet they were needed. So, rather than deport these Chinese people, they were confined to a barrio such as the conquistadores had set up for their native servants in the Americas. It became a colonial Chinatown. The Parian was the name the Spaniards gave to this barrio: a place for the pariahs, the outcasts, and the caste of untouchables. In a few years, the Parian grew, the Spaniards surrounded it with a high stockade...
"One drama of life that was characteristic of the old Chinatown in the Spanish Empire did not, however, develop in America. That was the revolt of the Chinese people against their subjugation and ghettoization. Beginning in the early 1600s, the population of the Parian in Manila launched repeated rebellions against the Spaniards. And several times they tore down the high stockade that surrounded Chinatown and burned large sections of the city. By 1769, Governor Anda bitterly complained that since the founding of the colony there had been fourteen insurrections by the Chinese, many of them armed revolutions. That came to a rebellion almost every fifteen years.
"In America, there was no possibility of armed revolt. Even if they had wished to, the people who had journeyed to the Golden Mountain could not have done as their brothers did in the Philippines. They were soon not merely outnumbered but overwhelmed by the influx of white men. And they were too distant from their homeland to hope for any support from the coastal pirates and secret societies of China who often aided the rebels in Manila to escape to the mainland.
"So the Chinatowns of the [U.S.] turned inward, not outward. They did not burn the cities, but rather their cities were burned. And facing the pressure of mob violence and oppressive laws, the people withdrew more and more behind the invisible walls that the white society erected around their Chinatowns.
"Those who dared to go beyond the wall risked abuse and beatings... the society that had forced the people into the ghettos began to complain, 'The Chinese keep to themselves.'"