From China to Tucson

Chinese immigrants work their way up.

by Vanessa Medeiros

The Chinese began arriving to the West Coast of the United States for the Gold Rush of the late 1840s. Later, many Chinese immigrants moved from major "Gold Rush" cities such as San Francisco to small communities and began working in mines or for the railroads. According to U.S. Census Statistics, three Chinese settled in Tucson by 1860 and twenty were settled in 1870. The arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad to Tucson in March 1880 increased the growth of Tucson's Chinese community because Southern Pacific employed many Chinese to lay tracks and cook. By 1880, there were 1,630 Chinese. Some of these men chose to remain behind in Tucson rather than follow the tracks eastward. These immigrants opened businesses like restaurants and laundries. Some moved to the Westside to farm the banks of the Santa Cruz.

In 1878, Low Tai You started the first known Chinese "truck farm." Truck farmers raised vegetables then sold them via horse and buggy. In 1885, the Silver Lake District was filled with Chinese truck gardens.

Grocery stores grew from the needs of the early Chinese truck farmers to supply a market for their produce. Soon, Chinese stores began to open all over town. Barrio Anita has hosted several Chinese grocery stores over the years, including Don Loy & Co., Low Fun, Lou Yan, Low You, Sew Kee, Wing Lee and Anita Street Market.

Sources:
Tom, May Y."The Chinese In Tucson, Arizona." Chinese Digest. 3/38. Tom, May Y."The Chinese In Tucson, Arizona." Chinese Digest. 4/38. Thiel, J. Homer."Uncovering the Story of Tucson's Chinese Gardeners."
Newsletter of the Center for Desert Archaeology. Spring, 1998.