The Promise of Gold Mountain: Tucson's Chinese Heritage

Historical Perspective

Southern Pacific Railroad Workers
The Southern Pacific Railroad brought the majority of early Chinese immigrants to Tucson. The Chinese had been brought to Arizona for the back-breaking task of extending the railroad through the desert. The desert heat was the official justification for importing Chinese laborers: Anglos could not be expected to put in a day's work under those conditions! In actuality, the railroad viewed the Chinese as cheap, reliable laborers. Their wages were $1.00 per day, 50 cents less than Anglo workers. From these wages the Chinese were also expected to pay for their own board. more >

Farming and Small Businesses
Most of the early Chinese were brought to Tucson as laborers for the railroads and mines. However, before the railroad had even reached Gila Bend three Chinese men had left the work crews and came to Tucson. These first Chinese Tucsonans shared the family name of Wong. They opened the O.K. Restaurant at Church and Mesilla streets in the late 1870's. Instead of a cash register, they used a laundry basket to collect 75 cents for each meal served. Restaurants, grocery stores, laundries and farming would become important industries for the early Chinese community. more >

Tucson's Chinatowns
Many of the earliest Chinese immigrants living in Tucson moved into run-down adobe buildings located at the west end of Pennington Street. The residents of "Old Chinatown" were primarily young men trying to become established in this country. Wash houses, stores and opium dens soon sprang up in the area. The Chinese population eventually spread southward, and by 1908, 37 Chinese businesses were operating south of Congress Street. Many Chinese families moved with their businesses, settling in neighborhoods alongside Anglo and Hispanic families. more >

Chinese In Northern Mexico

From the late 1920s until 1935, Wong Check Kwong served as the consulate representative of the Chinese government in Nogales, Sonora. more >

More Information

The Library of Congress' American Memory project includes The Chinese in California, 1850-1925. The Chinese in California, 1850-1925 illustrates nineteenth and early twentieth century Chinese immigration to California through about 8,000 images and pages of primary source materials. Included are photographs, original art, cartoons and other illustrations; letters, excerpts from diaries, business records, and legal documents; as well as pamphlets, broadsides, speeches, sheet music, and other printed matter. These documents describe the experiences of Chinese immigrants in California, including the nature of inter-ethnic tensions. They also document the specific contributions of Chinese immigrants to commerce and business, architecture and art, agriculture and other industries, and cultural and social life in California. Chinatown in San Francisco receives special treatment as the oldest and largest community of Chinese in the United States. Also included is documentation of smaller Chinese communities throughout California, as well as material reflecting on the experiences of individuals.

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