« 99% Invisible

319- It's Chinatown

2018-08-14 | 🔗

For Americans, the sight of pagoda roofs and dragon gates means that you are in Chinatown. Whether in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, the chinoiserie look is distinctive. But for people from China, the Chinatown aesthetic can feel surprisingly foreign.

The same goes for fortune cookies.

Two stories from the 99pi archive about the complex and interesting ways China has been interpreted by America.

It’s Chinatown

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety nine percent invisible I'm roman Mars. If you're walking in San Francisco, you might not know when your crossing from the western addition neighborhood in he's valley here, Apron Porthos or Excelsior, but you can, be aimlessly wandering around any western city of significant size, including San Francisco or Oakland, and you'll know exactly when you're in Chinatown Those was you accuse, maybe simple, to pick up on, but it turns out the origin, stories of John Town and the architecture and food that come from. It are far more complex and interesting than you can imagine. We, couple stories on this a few years ago, and we compel them together into this episode. I hope you like it. In nineteen sixty eight toward soy step off a plane from Hong Kong and into the San Francisco International Airport. It was this first time on american soil.
At twenty two years old, he had left his homeland of China and travelled across the ocean to build a new life for himself and his young wife in this land of opportunity, when immigrants, first come to the: U S, illnesses, and this is such an all trope. In an old stories. You expect trees are paved with gold. This is, honey toy toward his daughter, she's. Also, the author of a book about American Chinatown, today, I chinese people still call San Francisco comes on meaning gold mountain. This is where you find your fortune George Joys, very first stop in San Francisco. His very first up in America, like generation upon generation of chinese immigrants before him was Francisco's Chinatown and he was not in asked to George San Francisco chinatown- fell out of date. The things he saw in Chinatown these pagoda roofs, these dragging gates. These flourishes that
A signal China and Chinese. This there are things that he actually and seen in back in China for years and years and years, and they were not used in the architectural for an accurate back there, and so he wondered how China town in this in a really supposedly modern America, was why did it feel older than the oldest parts upon com working grown up because was design that way. That's producer, Chelsea Davis for joy, which soy and many other chinese immigrants, San Francisco Chinatown and the and the towns in a lot of american cities. They don't look much like the China they now looks like a bit of a movie said. Actually it's so out of context to anything else and next to it on either side. That's filmmaker, Felicia shalt. She made a documentary about San Francisco Chinatown walking around Chinatown. Together, we pass Bank of America intends guarded by gold dragon
shops with neon names like heart of Shanghai selling, paper fans and plastic buddhas and towering for story. Bazaars crown This little pagodas, but Chinatown hasn't always look this way in actor for the massive earthquake that leveled San Francisco in one thousand, nine hundred and six Chinatown look like most of the other neighborhoods in San Francisco rows of brick, homes done up with Victoria telling eight facades. The only thing you recognize is China, tat other people, women and the chinese signs. Instead of american signs, that's fell, Choi, retired architect and historian of chinese american culture. He grew up in San Francisco Chinatown, still lives there. Today he says it's not like chinese immigrants in ISAF had strong opinions either way about their neighborhoods victorian flourishes, the columns porches they just didn't
What choice when it came to where they live after arriving in America, they moved into the old homes that white people had abandoned for greener pastures and after that date, the Chinese didn't have time to really pay attention to the architecture or creating chinese architecture. The basic desire, was to make a living and making a living was easier said than done. If you were chinese and early twentieth century San Francisco. Since the eighteen sixties, chinese immigrants had been a convenient scapegoat for nationwide job shortages, the result, was federal legislation like the eighteen? Eighty, two chinese exclusion ACT, which barred the vast majority of chinese people from entering the states and made it impossible for chinese already in the? U S, to become new american citizens in favour
racist housing policies made it almost impossible for people of chinese heritage to live outside of Chinatown and when they did set foot outside the fifteen square blocks of the Chinese. On wave, it was at the risk of physical violence, so the self contained world of Chinatown, Sir, as a desperately needed refuge for chinese San Franciscans but in nineteen o nine hundred and six, that refuge would be eviscerated by a double whammy of a disaster. Early in the morning of April eighteenth of that year, San Franciscans woke up to seven point, eight magnitude earthquake. It was the biggest quake in the cities recorded. History still is, but those violent tremors were just the beginning, because the earthquake shattered the city's gas means and the guy that. We don't somewhere it connected with a spark
The massive fires that resulted lasted for three days and destroyed about five hundred city blocks. Chinatown was one of the first neighborhoods to go up in smoke. The safe space for chinese release at fifteen black radius of the neighborhood and without it it becomes. Very dangerous situation, Andrea Davies, is a historian at Stanford Humanity Center, but before her there are now Cadena. She was in a slightly different line of work. I was a San Francisco firefighter for about five years, and so my first assignment was Chinatown. Fighting fires in that neighbourhood later led Davies to write a social history of the nineteen o six catastrophe, she's as that in the wake of the disaster newspaper, Had all this fuel goodies story that the ESA quake and fire, where social equalizer
the shared experience of suffering United San franciscans of all colors and creeds, man, helping man and so on, but woe white men may have helped white move. No one was open the Chinese, in fact the real against them only intensified. I call it heightened posters asked racism, you see this heightened racism happening on at least two levels. First, with individual white San Franciscans, the built environment, keeps everyone in their place and that's what gets erased on April, ten, two thousand and six. So if you're an elite white San Francisco, you dont have to see the residents of training to analyse you go there as the Chinese are leaving their homes in desperation. There being yelled at to get out and don't turn back and according to Davies, it wasn't just private citizens who were guilty of that heightened racism, because the second place that the fire spurred a flare up and races.
Wasn't how the recovery efforts were managed. The fire department did very little to stop it in Chinatown and in fact, made it worse and the water means a broken. So there is not one of wonder if, like the fires, as if you look at China, town, which has never right against Knob Hill Although the mountains are there, all the water goes tricked random air to save knob hell and all the dynamite goes into Chinatown at the time, far departments with dynamite buildings to keep one from spreading, but the fire department use the wrong kind of dynamite in Chinatown burned, all the faster the following days as the embers of Chinatown cooled. The Chinese he's, found themselves homeless and new the vulnerable and hostile streets, but things were about to get worse
so many of the city's political and business leaders or actually excited about this social equalising disaster, because it a limited in Chinatown and if not, will never rebellion before the quake. Many white said the chinese neighbourhood as the camorra of opium dance, prostitution and disease in eighteen. Eighty five city hall had prepared a municipal report on Chinatown and in that report page you some of documentation listing all the houses of prostitution and, number of gambling houses and opium dims throughout China. This reputation for vice had actually created a minor industry of slum tourism in Chinatown. Thrill seeking white people could higher I them through scenes of alleged depravity, they would be taken through dimly gambling buildings. Shown. Opium smokers and prostitutes and gambling evidence suggests that some of these
Scenes may have actually been staged by the guides themselves. In one thing that was definitely fake was widespread rumour that same Francisco's chinese residence lived in underground tunnels. This It's what they really believe that the Chinese lived underground, and even today, people once the seeds, China, towns, underground. On top of all, this Chinatown was right in the middle of choice: downtown meals. Real estate that San Francisco elites had long wanted for white businesses. In fact, two years before the fire then mayor, James Feline had hired an architect to draw up sketches for a new downtown, the architect they hired. You may have heard of him, Daniel Burton and in his plan there-
China down Burnham was a proponent of the city, beautiful movement and urban planning philosophy popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and this idea, city, beautiful, it's very racial eyes. The sphere and the idea is a more beautiful urban environment, creates more beautiful, said like we want a beautiful city of well educated citizens, and everyone is white and productive and with China, on burned to the ground city, lead CS the chance to make that white dream a reality. Within a week of the fire City Hall created a committee dedicated solely to relocating Chinatown. The group included for Mayor James Feeling, the one who had hired Burnham to draw those revised draft of San Francisco, and so the minute the city goes up in flames, I'm not kidding, I don't think cities finished, burning and James field.
This telegraphing Ghana Burnham send more reports immediately, get them in the hands of the city. Leaders in business leaders hears our plan. We can rebuild here's the perfect setting the plan for that, city booted, the Chinese, all the way to hunters point a region on the edge of town. It's where this these slaughterhouses were, but it wasn't long for the chinese residents found out about the plan and they fought back and I think they fought back very intelligently. Do your job. Is impressed dowager. So she she said, her consul general from Washington to meet with San Francisco officials that they cry was financial. For decades San Francisco had been a key hub for trade with China. So a group of the city's top
chinese business owners wrote to the current mayor in a language San Francisco, officials could easily understand, and so the on the business level of the negotiation was okay. You don't want us to come back, we're not going to hunters point. We can go to Tacoma. We go to Portland, so this is panic loss of revenue for the city, and that was a lost that city leaders couldn't take less than a month after the earthquake. The mayor dissolved his committee to relocate Chinatown. For chinese Americans at this time this was an unprecedented political victory, but they didn't stop there. The fire had left Chinatown a blank slate and for the first time the Chinese were holding the chalk they were sick of Chinatown. Getting this bad rap provides sick of city hall, harassing this sick of visitors asking them if they lived in tunnels. The Chinese wanted a make over for their neighbour head and
american bore chinese Business man named look tin. Eli knew just how to go about it. The word was build me. A pagoda that Felicia low. Again. She says looked in EU, I figured pay if tourists are always going to come to Chinatown seeking a taste of some imaginary east, let's give them what they want, and so he was able to hire white architects to create China Town, that looked the way white people, a man China town to look even Oh, he knew in his own mind that the buildings in China didn't all look like this looks plan might seem a bit counter intuitive at first for decades the Chinese have Sanford's, had been harassed precisely because they looked undress differently from mainstream White America. And he was a guy saying- let's We build our neighbourhood in a way that emphasizes are foreignness that cars are different from the rest of the city. In the very face of
our buildings but Bunny Soy, whose father had been flung fixed by the look of Chinatown when he arrived in San Francisco she says that the chinese community of one thousand nine hundred and seven saw a positive side to that foreign this and they also were pretty savvy with the fact that People were interested in them and they were interested in this exotic element and if they could bill that in a way that was attractive instead of repellent, that that would be protective for them. Look hired and architects. Named T Patterson Ross and an engineer named a w Bergmann. These two men, never been to China at the time. The architects were not trained in the traditional anything about Orient Architecture, because I was at that time the Orient was consider way behind the west. So
culturally, everything was looked down upon. Let's see as nothing. This study about rats in Bergmans knowledge of China, was limited to a few images. They'd scene of ancient palaces from the song dynasty, an ARC textual style. There was already hundreds of years old by the early twentieth century, but that didn't stop rose and programme from using their imaginations and oh, they used their imaginations. They created the sort of this: the LAN effect. For instance, sing John Building was taught with a small structure that sort of looked like pagoda. A choice as that in China, you typically wouldn't see pagoda. On top of another building pagodas. There are free standing structures, not a decorative flourish and, secondly, in China. These were the monuments for religious purposes. The religion of Buddhism here San Francisco form the pig
Instead houses, a monument to consumerism, sing, Chung became the bustling department, store, Hocking Asian ART, which, still is to this day. But nonetheless, the designers that look, ten Eli hired created a striking building and other merchants rebuilding in Chinatown couldn't help but notice and sing chunks bombastic sheen. Wiser look had become these style for most new structures going up in Chinatown. The architects who are true to reproduce. Beijing in San Francisco may have gotten a lot of the details wrong, but for the tourists they were wrong and all the right ways: tourists loved the new Chinatown. This was Naturally, the westerner friendly version of China. They wanted vaguely exotic but safe enough for a middle class White America,
The visitors began to flow into trying to town, and so did their cash in Tirana. Tones pleasant, new appearance was beginning to change popular sentiment towards the door. These people, american newspapers, made it explicit that the neighborhood makeover was causing them to rethink their contempt for the chinese and one newspaper, the bulletin put it in one thousand nine hundred and nine quote Chinatown is one of the most noted places on the american continent. We have held up to the public gaze for too long the racial grief that separates the yellow and white people of the earth and Look, ten e lies plan had worked, and chinese communities elsewhere in the? U S, we're taking note all of this excessive China towns that have come in America take a cue from this a page from this playbook works him Cisco, allay Honolulu. They all sort of have their roots in San Francisco
Bonnie soy again. She says the visual style and tourist friendly attitude that San Francisco Chinatown had perfected soon began to spread invoke the new China to brood was so successful, but it's still influence enjoyed it held to be built in our own time, for instance, take that the town in LAS Vegas, which was created in the nineties it off. I had the same pagoda. Refines and dragging gates like the same language, architectural language at same architectural vernacular was being used to create. Newest Chinatown that was used to create the oldest town. You know you outsmarted the devil. If not. Basically there is a phrase. You know that they called white people Bach way, which White Devil. Instead, it was a victory. Absolutely, of course, this architectural revenge didn't instantly fix everything for the Chinese in San Francisco. They still faced plenty of legal
popular discrimination. For example, they were. Still required by real estate laws to live in Chinatown and non affair. A level the chinese exclusion ACT itself wouldn't even be repealed until nineteen forty three more than thirty years later in the evening, If the rebranding of Chinatown help to ease negative sentiment towards the Chinese, Philip Joy, is, it may also have help promote certain stereotypes. It continues to promote a form and my I remember my daughter coming home one day very annoyed and upset as if these people look look. Look there.
Like they never seen a chinese person before by contrast, look at the other traditionally ethnic neighborhoods in San Francisco, Japan, town or at the italian neighbourhood of North Beach choice as those neighborhoods didn't self exotic size in the nineteen hundreds to nearly the same extent, in Chinatown dead, deliberately. In relation to embrace complexity, other bring groups at that time didn't face the same antagonism that the Chinese did so May, the Chinese were forced to cater to white. Me pulls fantasies as a survival mechanism. Oh that's the irony. At that time we had to promote our foreignness to be accepted, but even if China, towns architecture is a somewhat often take representation of the real thing for a lot of tourists
don't realize- is the fact that many people live there and that it is a place actually that is for poor people. You know I mean it is at its essence, a place where people come to live when they first get here, because they can afford live anywhere else because they need the services that are provided their fanny. Soy says this is true of all the Chinatown she studied there. All portals of entry for new migrants of particular class in a working class immigrants who don't speak English, in fact, thanks to factor like rent controls, zoning restrictions and really active tenants rights groups and the community can Francisco's
in a town has managed to remain a relatively affordable neighbourhood for low income immigrants bodies as young he trotted out has been Disney fine rebranded to cater to american taste, but there is still an authentic and important history. There there's something about it that if you can sort of red the skyline, you can read the story of how this place came to be in Also in that is chinese market Andre History, and in that there's like there's a power that pressure M percent invisible was produces. We quite Chelsea Davis and Katy mingled aversion. The story was originally broadcast in the public radio history programme backstory
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Thirty, nine and your power ball is forty. Two that's producer Rachel and there is a winner in Tennessee, but the way the power ball drawings, work, they're, usually some second place, winners, guess all of the numbers, except for the very last one on air There are three or four of these players, but thirty. Two thousand five there were one hundred and ten second place winners, bizarre outcomes, you're, a glance something of the same number like has someone compromises system. This is journalist. Jennifer eight Lee lottery officials are panicking because, like something is so, the next winners around the United States came to collect the powerful officials asked so rigid Gatt. Your number from and each of them had the same answer. Gotten their numbers from a fortune cookies.
Who are different cookies, indifferent states, but they all have the same fortune and the same lucky numbers very lucky numbers, and so we just heard of it made you realize how much fortune is, and chinese food have become an american ritual. Chinese food, along with pizza and the frankfurter, has been adopted and modified to become american cuisine, rooted in good old fashioned. Americans, xenophobia, in the early waves of chinese immigration and eighteen fiftys. The new chinese population worked mostly as minors and farmers and labours and I, as ever, we are concerned About these new immigrants taking away jobs- and it was only after huge anti chinese backlash that the Chinese actually moved and chew fields. One was laundry, is another one was restaurant, are these are cleaning cooking which are women's work and thus they were safe.
The longer attracting american mail and as their livelihoods depended on chinese restaurant owners made up dishes to cater to american tastes. American, facing like things that are sweet and our fried chicken and that's how dishes like chop Suey were invented, up sui. The name actually means assorted pieces like odds and ends camps. Who is the biggest culinary joke that one culture is ever played on another chop, Suey he's a real chinese dish at all. It's as american as Apple pie and speaking of apple pie. Americans dessert because we are american and we might ensure sweet and fanny scene, they deserve, and as chinese desserts go, there are That many options that the american palette would go for. The Chinese is earth like there is the moon cake, which, like tastes and looked like a hockey epoch, like there's, dares not there's not a lot of stuff, and so rather nineteen twenty is the fortune cookies somehow enters the american chinese restaurant culture where they
came from originally is a bit of a mystery, but will get to the first. Let's make this perfectly clear. The cookies are now but from China. I dont know why the Chinese do they? Don't you know fishing Stephen Yang, is founder of Yanks fortunes incorporated in San Francisco These people in China don't need fortune cookies, but America, consume billions of them, which means rate business for Stephen, because he Since a lot of the paper fortunes that go inside fortune cookies, anyway. I would I knew your boss then choose day anyway. All you can see my fortune, including all the fortunes prepared to express that's. Definitely, even the biggest client, Stephen tiny warehouse in San Francisco dog patch district is filled with boxes. All stuffed full of tiny strips of fortune paper. Each box contains three hundred thousand paper fortunes.
The latter have been allowed to see it. Stephen prince all these boxes, in boxes with only five other employees and least ask in his daughter rights all the fortunes. When I visited she was away on maternity leave, but she is written most of the company's five thousand unique fortunes. This is amazing because, when you think about it, fortunes are deceptively difficult to write. The messages to be really really generic because they could be for anyone can't write messages leg. You will meet a tall dark stranger, because an eight year old could read that and be like one. Why would we
and fortunes also have to be careful not to offend famously. There was once a fortune that said lighten up and a lot of customers were alike. Is this cookie calling me fat and, of course, no bad predictions Americans, like their fortunes sunny, so fortunes tend to be vague or just generally uplifting like tomorrow will be better or the fortunes are nabbed from quotation books, just whatever LISA confined Stephen doesn't really care. He doesn't read them out all wine making people they like it is It will do when they got a fucking after eating dinner, keeping the worse the Cuban her to some people do, keep the fortunes in their wallets when us around. It turns out a few of my friends. Do this or can receive their favorite fortunes from memory and it's crazy, because a lot of these fortunes are Stevens threatened by, his daughter, LISA but there are few ways to tell we're abortions fortunes come from.
You get one with blue corners on it. That was printed by a giant company in New York called want on food, Dame over four million cookies a day and were responsible for the cookie that made all those power ball winners in two thousand five. Fortune has smiley faces on it. It was probably printed by a chinese company for the american market. Of course, and if the fortune doesn't have blue corners or smiley faces chances are. It was one of the many thousands that Stephen Prince in all different colours and fought and sends defect It is all over the country, including the golden Gate Fortune cookies company in a tiny alleyway in San Francisco Chinatown, the Golden Gate fortune cookies company is pretty, tourists d, it charges visitors, fifty cents, a photo and doesn't actually have a very big cookie output. Actually calling this place a factory is kind of an overstatement it's just one narrow room with most of the space taken up by three hulking fortune, cookies machines,
versions of machines that were invented by Edward Louis. My father used to call his machine like this fourth trial, he had three sons and, in the fourth answers this baby, one of Edwards three sons, met me at the golden gate. Fortune cookies company, these fortune, could you machines are pretty simple: they flatten dad's a better onto a conveyor belt in a worker, sits next to this belt and folds the hot cookies around the paper fortunes one. By one my hand, we pick them off ass. You see them doing here, folder and Modern conveyor, Ming learned how to fold the cookies. When he was around eight years old, family used to have a fortune cookie company of their own, and it was their whole life you, and during dinner we took shifts somebody eats the other. One works, that's how we did it. You know we used to call ourselves the prisoners, I was a famous saying, help on the prisoner and fortune cookies factory.
Mings Father, later developed the next generation of fortune, cookie machines, a fully automated version which also folds the cookie and because of this technology fortune cookies are widely available and cheap enough that restaurants can give them out for free. No one in the Louie family really question whether cookies originated, but it was, the mystery that other people try dissolve people Ike Sally o saki. She they were not embedded in China. You. What do you mean the chinese fortune, cookies, japanese, Sally or Saki is California born and raised, but her pair came from Japan and the early nineteen hundreds. I was a child the used to be in Japanese rather than the chinese character and the cook his weren't something you'd get at the end of a meal at a restaurant. They'd come
the ban, and mostly I know whom we got them when I was a child- was Lugosi japanese movies, so in sallies, California, childhood but cookies were a casual snack. But if you. Chase them all the way back to their origins in Japan. You act, you find them at a shrine in Kyoto, Enemy Kyle walk around there. You will be able to find these japanese bakers grilling fortune cookies Jennifer flew to whom she me in I retire Shaw shrine in Kyoto, specifically to try them, but they are not like the fortune. Cookies. We see in the United States are like bigger round her and there are actually kind of thing. None he savory flavour, so they're, more cracker like, but still there that same iconic fortune cookies shape. We all know there is actually an old japanese image of a baker folding these crackers, in it dates back to a teen seventy eight decades.
Before the first reports of american border book is one of the bakers that I spoke to thought that a fortune cookies. They designed to look like a bell in part, because her bells all along the path, to the shrines, but then why don't we eat it after sushi because people were not eating? Unlike nineteen? Twenty, japanese immigrants were opening businesses in the nineteen twenties. There was no market for japanese food again like that chinese immigrants before them, they hindered to american tastes chilled eyelid, japanese family is ran a lot of chinese restaurants and these job His family's ran american chinese restaurants. Full of chop suey the another foe, chinese cuisine and these japanese owners would throw in a fortune cookies for dessert. When Sally was a good fortune. Cookies were still made in japanese bakeries in both areas San Francisco and the fortunes, we're still in Japanese and then
happen, happened that completely disrupted everything about japanese american life in this country in the jack. I don't know if you know that the japanese American sounded twenty thousand, alas, during World WAR two or sent away to concentration camps. I was nine years old when he got sent to the concentration camps Sally. And her family were farmers. In Fresno. There were some into a train station and sent off to a camp in Arizona you had to carry whatever your day. The child can carry that much occurred. A small suitcase. And I remember my mother took me to store near our town to buy boots then where we were going and errors in Arizona. They were right. Snakes and scorpions were there or they were yeah? Oh yeah healer monsters, scorpions rattlesnakes here
camp? Her parents were given jobs at earned, hardly any money top Sammy sixteen hours or eighteen dollars a month. A man for four years from nineteen forty two to nineteen, forty six California, japanese and japanese american community was marooned in the desert out of sight out of communication and out of this, including a lot of japanese bakers and japanese restaurant owners, my recollection was that after we came out of the camps, it was the Chinese watching the chinese actually commercialized it and did all the time These restaurants started deserve it. To chinese business owners and later Edward Louis Fortune, cookie machines, the chinese american fortune cookies, as we now know it floor
It's nearly impossible depend the americanization of the cookie to one specific, japanese, American Baker or chinese american restaurant. The transfer from Japanese cracker to american chinese cookie was a larger phenomenon that occurred more or less across, California and then swept the rest of the United States and then the world except for China, they still need fortune cookies part. Two of ninety percent of what was produced by a breach of the story was largely inspired by Jennifer ain't Liese book, the Fortune cookies Chronicle of which goes in the even more depth about the origin of american chinese Cuisine and believe me or away deeper depth to explore it really fun real taken up the great wealth, provided all the music in the story
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.