It has been a long, hard road for Chinese immigrants to the United States. This is all dramatically told at the Chinese American Museum located in downtown Los Angeles. Adjacent to the Plaza de Los Angeles the museum occupies an historic building, named the Garnier, that has been identified with the Chinese for one hundred years.
One exhibit explains how the first Chinese arrived in 1852, beckoned to the U.S. as labor for the mines and then the building of the first transcontinental railroad. The construction of the railroad through the Sierra Nevada mountains was the most challenging of the entire rail line and much of the labor supplied by Chinese.
What proved equally challenging was the long struggle of the Chinese in America to receive the civil rights that other Americans took for granted. Exhibits graphically tell this story of striving for equality by the Chinese, both locally and nationally. The first Chinese arrived in Los Angeles in 1859 and the first Chinese woman to arrive Los Angeles was in 1885 and it rated a story in a local newspaper.
By 1900 there were 100,000 Chinese in America. But in that period a local judge ruled that no Chinese could file a criminal complaint against a white man, regardless of the seriousness of the crime.
Other exhibits tell of the founding of the first Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles and how it was razed for the building of Union Station and the first city freeway. Also how prominent Chinese created a new Chinatown in the 1930s on North Broadway which exists today and is still a tourist attraction.
Other exhibits tell of the typical enterprise of the Chinese and some of the businesses they established in Los Angeles. Also how Chinese themes and characters began to appear in Hollywood cinema.
Actually it took the Civil rights movement of the 1960s and the 1965 Voting Rights Act to end most discrimination of the Chinese. It also tells the dramatic rise of Monterey Park to become a conclave for middle class Chinese citizens.
Allow plenty of time for a visit to this fascinating museum that has so much to tell that will all be new to most Americans today. The museum is very popular with school groups from all parts of Los Angeles and surrounding communities. We found this out first hand when we were suddenly confronted by about fifty third or fourth grade students and their teachers on the second floor of the museum. We thought it the right time to conclude our visit.
The Chinese American Museum is located at 425 North Los Angeles Street in Los Angeles. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a most modest entrance fee. Telephone 213 485-8567, web www.camla.org.
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