The Promise of Gold Mountain: Tucson's Chinese Heritage

Esther Don Tang Remembers

Memories of the Early Years

"As we grew up, my 8 sisters, one brother and I not only celebrated the Chinese traditions, but the Mexican culture and American holidays. We learned the three languages, simultaneously and still enjoy and cook the ethnic foods for our families. It's really marvelous when one can select the good things in each culture.

"We played in the street, having a wonderful time where the Santa Fe depot was located (now a Carlos Murphy restaurant). Chinese farms dotted the area below A mountain & Tumamac Hill. We would go there to visit and picked melons. To go up to Mt. Lemon one had to go up through Oracle -- and that was scary.

"Dad used to sell groceries to migrant workers. On weekends I would help him by climbing into the bed of the truck to hand him the sacks of sugar or beans. He was a generous man. When cotton pickers would refuse to take out any more groceries on credit, he would insist on leaving food for their children. He grub staked a miner at the expense of our store which my mother tried to keep going during the depression years.

"Our neighbors were mostly Mexicans. When they came for groceries, my mother would mark the amounts in a small notebook, but return it to the customer. That was trust!

"During my elementary and high school years I was invited once to a birthday party and once to a slumber party. I'll never forget how impressed I was. I remember a student defending me from some catty friends. Mission and Wetmore pools, as well as Lyric theaters discriminated against the older Chinese population.

"After many years of public service, I was awarded the University Alumni Award and only several years ago was inducted into the Tucson High School Badger Foundation Hall of Fame. There were several teachers whom I was greatly indebted for the encouragement and inspiration, including Alice Vail, Elizabeth Baker, Barbara Allaire, Hugh Sewell, Helen Hunt, and Katheryn Young. They helped put me over the top."

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Memories of Chinatown

"The original Chinatown was bound by Alameda, Pennington and Pearl streets. In 1910 the Women's Club demolished part of the area, later the City Hall took over the rest of it. The Chinatown that I knew was located between Main & Meyer Streets and Broadway and Jackson. Daddy used to go to Chinatown, which was several blocks from our second home and grocery store to play majong and fan ton. When mother wanted him home, my sisters and I would go call him.

"This was the gathering place for all the Chinese family festivities such as wedding receptions, birthday parties, one-month-old baby parties and meetings. I recall a central kitchen under an open ramada. It had a special stove for several woks to cook huge amounts of food for banquets. There was also a huge chimney-like barbecue oven opened at the top. Every celebration meant a roast pig. The carcass was hoisted up by a pulley, brushed with honey water, pricked full of holes so that the grease would ooze out and make the skin crispy.

"Whenever a Chinese needed capital to start a business, ten people formed a credit union. The borrower placed a bid for the money that pooled by the other nine people. During CC Camps and WPA there were no Chinese in these programs. In fact, very few have been on the welfare roles."

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