HISTORICAL SITE 6
TheChinese Historical Society of America (CHSA) is one of the ancientcultural heritage organizations in the country. The body interprets,promotes, and preserves the sociocultural, political history andcontributions of the Chinese. The Museum, located in Chinatown SanFrancisco, was my historical site visit. My experience at the museumwas fantastic. I was able to demystify the stereotypic views thatmost of us have developed concerning the Chinese and theircontributions to the American history and its growth (Chiang, 2015).The CHSA displays the contributions and legacy of the Chinese byhosting exhibitions, publications, and educational programs in theirLearning Center and Museum (CHSA, 2016). In this essay, I willprovide a critical reflection on my experience on the site, itspeople, and their activities. I will also state if my observation ofthe place and the people met my expectation.
Myvisit at the CHSA
Imust confess that my experience about the place was a mixture ofexcitement and pensive moments, especially as I went through theMuseum’s extensive photo gallery in their exhibition center. Thephotographs highlight the struggle that the Chinese community hasgone through in their quest to contribute and belong to AmericanSociety. The main gallery shows photos of this community in theirfight to be part of the Union and contribute to the American dream.These pictures give a documented account of how the Chinese Americansmade huge waves of migrations, beginning in the early nineteenthcentury to present day society (CHSA, 2016). The artifacts in thegallery focus on the Chinese laborers as they toiled to develop therailroad in the west of the country. The community’s significantcontributions to other sectors such as fishing and agriculture inWest America, was surprising to me. I learned that the community feltat home when identified as Americans as compared to ChineseAmericans.
Onestriking aspect of the site and its environs is the dense populationof the Chinese community in San Francisco. Chinatown is a denselypopulated urban center with over fifteen thousand people living intwenty square blocks. The National census estimated that the Chinesepopulation in Chinatown was about one hundred thousand. Walkingthrough the town, I witnessed some of its unique demographicattributes. For instance, the historical center documents how theChinese have settled in Chinatown, with a majority living in singlerooms due to high property costs in the neighborhood.
Accordingto data from the museum, most of the community members aremonolingual speakers who speak Mandarin or Cantonese (Risse, 2012).The ethnic composition of Chinatown consists mainly ofCantonese-speaking immigrants from Mainland China and Hong Kong.Initially, the neighborhood spoke Taishanese dialect. However, theincreased number of immigrants from Hong Kong and China has resultedin a change in the standard dialect, where most people speakCantonese. The ethnic composition of the area supports theChinese-Vietnamese coalition that formed huge enclaves even outsideChinatown due to the dense population. The second group in the townis the ethnic Chinese refugees, mainly from Vietnam (Risse, 2012).The group has not established business enterprises in Chinatownbecause of high property value and rent.
TheMuseum provides more information concerning the history of the townas well as the migration account of the Chinese community inCalifornia. I was interested in the accounts of early Chineseworkers, shopkeepers, and commercial sex workers in the town. Forinstance, the historical account of Ah Toy, a Cantonese prostitute inSan Francisco, during the California gold rush was very thrilling(CHSA, 2016). She was considered one of the most beautiful women whoused her beauty to exploit men.
Thesite also exhibits the architectural attributes of San Francisco’sChinatown. The pictures explore the beginning of the settlement andsome of the major events that have shaped its history. For instance,the town was completely ruined during the 1906 Great Earthquake andFire (CHSA, 2016). However, the resilience of its inhabitants hasseen the town rebuild and become one of the most enduring andincredible neighborhoods in the country. Furthermore, Frank Wong’sMemories in Miniature depicts Chinese architectural designs aseffective in providing a historical account of how the communitysought to maintain its identity, far away from its ancestral home(CHSA, 2016). For instance, he’s miniature referred to as theherbalshop portraysthe community’s love for their traditional medicines and herbs asopposed to conventional medicines. The stores highlight theimportance of herbal plants and their role in disease management anderadication. According to the artist, these miniature memories are adisplay of his personal experiences while growing up in Chinatown. They also illustrate his past accounts of businesses andpersonalities in the neighborhood (CHSA, 2016). What I realizedduring my visit is that the Chinese community in this area isconcerned about their history and its preservation for futuregenerations. Additionally, the Museum provides them with anopportunity to showcase their contributions towards the formation ofthe nation and development.
Myimpression of the site, people, place and activities
Initially,my perspective about Chinatown was very stereotypic. I viewed thecommunity as foreigners whose history I assumed was different fromthat of the American society. I did not anticipate that the communityhad such wonderful history and had made selfless contributions to therealization of the American Union, especially through theirinvolvement in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad andother activities in both the fishing and agricultural sectors.Chinatown has a high crime rate and illegal activities and as aresult, I was careful (Risse, 2012). My impression of the area wasmainly from facts presented by the media. I anticipated that I wouldexperience challenges when moving around the town due to trafficcongestion. I later had to change this impression because mobilitywas not challenging. After the visit as I realized that the place wassecure, especially for short-term visitors. I was curious aboutillegal activities taking place in the area. However, when I touredthe historical site, I realized that most of the residents engaged inlegal activities. For instance, I had the notion that in Chinatown,gun violence is high and a real threat to one’s security (Risse,2012). Furthermore, I had anticipated that the place had numerousbrothels due to elevated levels of prostitution. However, I haverealized that although prostitution is rampant, it is practiced indiscreet ways, making it difficult for a stranger to notice.
Myexperience at the Chinese Historical Society of America’s Museum inChinatown was informative. I was educated on the contributions of theChinese to the American society. I was also notified about some ofthe legal instruments that the Congress had to use to regulate theinflux of the Chinese population in the area and the rest of thecountry. My experience did not meet the expectations that I had.However, it gave me an opportunity to appreciate the Chinese Americancommunity in Chinatown and some of their traditions.
Chiang,L. (2015). San Francisco’s Chinese Historical Society of America.Exhibition from the New-York Historical Society. Accessed onJuly 4, 20i6 from
CHSA,(2016). Chinese Historical Society of America. CHSA.
Risse,G.B. (2012). Plague,Fear, and Politics in San Francisco`s Chinatown.Baltimore, MD:
JohnsHopkins University Press.