Sojourners and Settlers; The Chinese Experience in Arizona

By Lawrence Michael Fong

Originally published in The Journal of Arizona History, Volume 21, Autumn 1980, p. 1 - 30

Much of the literature on early Chinese immigrants to the western United States focuses on their experiences in California and as laborers on the great railroad construction projects of the late nineteenth century. Their role in Arizona Territory, however, has been largely neglected and bears deeper examination. The earliest Chinese settlers came to Arizona just after it had become a Territory of the United States in 1863. They had reached a land of frontier opportunities and values, where cultures were ethnically diverse and the Anglo segment was becoming numerically dominant. Arizonans were, for the most part, preoccupied with controlling the large Hispanic population politically and the native Indian population militarily. The Chinese did not enter the Territory in sufficient numbers to be viewed as a significant social threat and thus were not confronted with the discriminatory legislation or the violent expressions of prejudice that had greeted them in California, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.

Initially the Chinese were drawn from their troubled homeland to the sparsely settled western frontier after news had reached them of the vast natural resources and beauties of the region; it was a land to be conquered, then exploited by ingenuity and business acumen. Gold strikes attracted Asians and Anglos alike, but the false dream of unlimited and undiscovered mineral wealth left many disheartened and without any hope of income. First regional, then national legislation was directed at the Chinese, taking them out of circulation and direct competition with the Anglos. But with the need for transportation and for communication with the industrial Northeast came the construction of transcontinental railroads. The Chinese were available, they were disciplined laborers, and again they were brought to the expanding western territories. The railroads, in turn, helped them escape persecution in northern California and brought them to less developed and populated territories. Arizona was one such place.

Here they were accommodated within a similarly restrictive, but far less hostile, social and political atmosphere. The new arrivals tended to conform generally to existing political notions: they aligned themselves with traditional parties, voted along party lines, supported party issues, and presented no barrier to Anglo determination of policy. Through adaptability they were able to fare much better in the harsh Arizona environment of the 1870s than in other locales. They took on a number of occupations after the railroad construction played out; they were willing to take jobs few others wanted and to work for lower wages as well. Many achieved success and remained as permanent residents.

To understand the Chinese experience in Arizona it is necessary to examine their treatment in California, the port of entry for the majority of Oriental arrivals. The Chinese presence there was notable in 1848. As news of the gold discoveries attracted prospectors from throughout the continent, word also reached the provinces of southeastern China through the Chinese already in California.

Seaports like Canton and Shanghai had developed into commercialized urban centers. The declining hegemony of Mandarin elitism and foreign Manchurian rule had made survival for the common Chinese uncertain. These factors, coupled with civil unrest and alternating seasons of floods and droughts, made passage to the gold fields worth any investment and any discomfort in steerage travel across the Pacific Ocean.

Having arrived, the immigrants, for a while, did very well. Initially, the quiet, industrious Asian goldseekers were able to work placers alongside Europeans, Mexicans, South Americans and Anglos. Much of the gold, however, had been extracted by the late 1850s, and the only other sources of income were in the developing cities. Migration of prospectors to Sacramento and San Francisco created competition between Chinese and others for jobs. The Foreign Miners' Tax of 1850 already had led many Chinese to the cities to seek employment in domestic services, laundries and small mercantile enterprises. 1

As the country developed, new opportunities attracted new waves of immigrants. The year 1860 saw an influx of Chinese as contract laborers, or "coolies," who disembarked in San Francisco. Existing manpower needs for large construction projects like the railroads might have been met by native Indian and Mexican groups, but the Chinese were contracted with despite growing prejudice against them. In the West, a large force of workers was necessary for rapid development, and increasing Chinese immigration helped to fill the need, bringing their total numbers to near 50,000 by 1860. Still, they represented less than one percent of the total California population.

Chinese labor was cheap and easy to handle. Men working on the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad received ten to twenty dollars per month, a food allowance or rations of rice, fish, beef or pork, vegetables and oil, as well as eating utensils. They furnished their own bedding and the railroad companies provided a "comfortable, water-proof quarter."2 Laborers were segregated and the Chinese worked among themselves with one of their group acting as the section foreman and as liaison with the construction supervisors.

The meeting of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroads at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869, again sent the unemployed into the cities. This time California, as well as the nation, was in an economic depression, primarily caused by wildcat speculation and declining gold production. (The stock market was based on the gold standard.) Periods of drought in California affected agricultural production adversely. The economy, therefore, was a major issue in the political platforms of Pacific states politicians. Chinese immigration was claimed to be closely related to fiscal problems in the U.S. The Chinese were accused not only of working for lower wages but also of taking away work that others deserved. Women, for example, began seeking employment as domestics, an occupation once left solely to the Chinese. For Dennis Kearny and the Workingman's Party, however, the Chinese were a threat to unionism and the unions' monopoly of labor in California. Cigar, shoe and food manufacturers in San Francisco continued to need labor as their enterprises developed and expanded, but pressures against hiring Chinese prevailed. Circulars from San Francisco's office of the Cigarmakers' International Union reached Tucson at the turn of the century, listing manufacturers who continued to employ Chinese, "which is a great injury to our white working men and women." The union asked readers to boycott these firms and, like the food manufacturers, they attached special labels to their products proclaiming "Made by white labor," or "Made by white men." 3

San Francisco officials, reacting to pressure from unions and those political factions that wanted to rid California of the "Chinese problem," as they phrased it, "quartered" the Orientals in a segregated area. Ironically this isolation created a self-sufficient community, supported through voluntary associations, schools, hospitals and commercial networks.

The prevailing prejudice against Orientals began to be reflected in legislation by 1880. George Seward in that year negotiated a treaty with China that permitted the United States to regulate, limit or suspend the immigration of Chinese laborers. 4 Others, however, were not to be included in the restriction. "Chinese subjects, whether proceeding to the United States as teachers, merchants or from curiosity, together with their servants; and Chinese laborers who are now in the United States shall be allowed to go and come of their own free will and accord, and shall be accorded all the rights ' privileges, immunifies and exemptions which are accorded to citizens of the most favored nation." 5

The Exclusion Law of 1882 quickly followed. It provided for the rejection of laborers -- "skilled and unskilled and those engaged in mining" -- over the next ten years. 6 All other Chinese, except diplomats, were required to bring a certificate from their government and any found to be in the United States unlawfully were to be deported. Treaties between the United States and China in 1884 and 1885 said nothing about the rights of Chinese already living or trading in the U.S.

The Geary Act of 1892 extended the Exclusion Law for another ten years and required certificates of residency with detailed particulars about the person, including a photograph. 7 Regulations called for the arrest of any Chinese without one. In 1902, these restrictive laws were extended indefinitely. Arizona, too, had felt the influences of this federal legislation and of popular prejudice.

Nevertheless, the Chinese kept coming. In 1852, twenty-nine ships arrived in San Francisco bearing Chinese immigrants who hoped to find wealth and security in the California gold fields. One vessel had come from Mazatlán, Sonora, Mexico. 8 The migration of Chinese to Arizona and the Southwest not only followed routes from California, but included direct immigration from China to Mexico, where immigrants set out on overland trails from the interior to the Sonora-Arizona border.

Those who came to Arizona found themselves in difficulties created by tension existing between Anglos and Hispanics. The Territory of Arizona was the result of Anglo occupation of Mexican land lost after the Mexican War (1846-48). Issues surrounding enfranchisement of Territorial residents, however, did not emerge until 1863, when Arizona and New Mexico became separate Territories. Anglo settlers in Arizona feared a consolidated Mexican vote. 9 Since an increase in population and in the number of registered voters was of fundamental importance for gaining statehood, the Mexican majority represented a potential obstacle to Anglo domination of growth and development. In this historical setting, the experience of the Chinese was one of relative accommodation during their initial migrations and settlement throughout the Territory. They made no trouble and at first encountered little opposition. They even made progress in conforming to the ways of the western frontier. Although segregated, they adjusted to

American dress and eating habits, even though their contact with Anglos, Mexicans and Indians was minimal. Furthermore, working on a section of the railroad often brought them into cities and towns. As their appearances in centers of population became more frequent, they began to encounter prejudice.

A number of early Chinese pioneers came to Prescott, arriving after the completion of the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869. In November, 1869, a few of these new immigrants were received with journalistic bias.

MORE CHINAMEN -- Three more Chinamen arrived here during the week, and have gone to work. There are now four of them which is quite enough. 10


In spite of opposition, they established groceries, laundries and a joss house, or shrine, along Goodwin and Granite streets. George Ah Fat ran local advertisements for his laundry in the Daily Arizona Miner in the 1870s.

Others were reported on June 13, 1868, in the employ of the Vulture mining works near Wickenburg. A Miner article of that date states that these twenty-odd Chinese pioneers did most of the work there. Many still felt their hearts flutter when the discovery of gold or silver was mentioned.


The flight of ye Chinamen is Big Bugwards. John thinks he has struck a big thing there, and is bound to go. Two, three and four cents to the pan were found by one of them, recently. The finder sent word to his countrymen in Prescott ... and they immediately resolved to start immediately. "Me no likee cookee, no likee washee, any more. Me go Big Bug light away, where one Chinaman telle me he find gleat deal coarse gold."


Editorializing, the article continued:


Now, John, as you have gone out into the woods, we tell you to beware of the Apache. 11


Chinese prospectors were known to rework old Spanish claims dating back to the 18th century and their methods for extracting gold were similar to placer techniques acquired in California. They were well acquainted with the speculative nature of this type of mining, and, accordingly, were not unfamiliar with incidents of fraud and conniving. In the 1870s some Chinese who were interested in investing in a mining operation came upon a claim being worked by Anglos west of Tubac. While a few of the miners were showing them a site which wasn't producing well, the others salted a bank and mixed fine gold dust with loose earth around the area. The Chinese were convinced of its wealth after washing out about eight dollars in gold and bought the claim for ten dollars. They became discouraged, however, after getting only about two ounces-the amount of gold salted in the bank. Realizing that there was no more of the metal, they gathered up their belongings, rice and tea, and set off for Tucson only to be attacked by Apaches, who killed the entire party of ten. The Chinese were fine subjects for scalping, as their hair was shaved close to the crown of the head and then tied in a pigtail. 12

New opportunities arose for the Chinese in the late 1870s when Collis P. Huntington decided to build a southern transcontinental railroad through Arizona. The need for experienced railroad workers presented the Chinese of California a chance to escape prejudice in the coastal cities. Survival for the new arrivals in the Territory, however, often depended on cooperation with other Arizonans. Though they themselves did not eat fish, Yuma Indians willingly sold them to Chinese when the construction camps reached the Colorado River in 1877. There also existed an informal business relationship between Chinese launderers and local Indians. Frontier laundries needed wood to fuel the fires for boiling vats of water and soap. Indians would gather chunks of mesquite, oak and ironwood and sell them to the Asian launderer.

By the spring of 1877, Huntington's track-laying crews had pushed across southern California and were at the Colorado River. Among the laborers, of course, were the Chinese immigrants. The Yuma Arizona Sentinel reported on April 14, 1877, that


"... on Monday a force of Chinamen was put to work near the river at Hanion's Ferry. During the week their numbers have been increased and the lot of horses and carts sent over to them .... The main Chinese camp is about a mile above Hanlon's, on the California side.... Salary and provisions during the construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad were comparable to those on the Central Pacific. Although for those Chinese sojourners who had, in fact, indentured their labor with an agent in China or California for passage, the one-dollar per-day salary went mostly towards repaying this debt. On November 23 of the same year, the Arizona Sentinel reported that " 249 Chinamen came in six cars .... On Thursday came eight cars with over 300 Chinamen, and yesterday 21 more came [into Arizona]."


When the Southern Pacific reached Tucson on March 20, 1880, it had become directly responsible for the largest settlement of Chinese in the Territory. The 1880 United States Census, for example, lists 1630 Chinese residents, of which 1153 lived in Pima County, 159 of them in Tucson. Within the Pima County total, 850 Chinese (a few with Hispanic surnames) were enumerated as laborers. Across all these pages is written "Railroad Worker." 13

Following the completion of the SP line, a few Chinese remained in Arizona and continued to work as cooks and waiters. Others worked as section hands. These occupations presented less strenuous demands than construction had at a time when most of the Chinese laborers were section graders, leveling the terrain upon which tracks would later be laid.

Again, if there was an opportunity to leave monotonous construction work, Chinese would take the chance for better employment. Wherever they went, friends and relatives were apt to follow. Before the Southern Pacific had reached Gila Bend, Arizona, for instance, three men who shared the family name Wong left the work gangs and came to Tucson. They arrived in the late 187os and established the O.K. Restaurant on the southeast corner of Church Plaza and Mesilla Street. A laundry basket was used instead of a cash register and meals were seventy-five cents each. 14 At a later date the Wongs became involved in litigation and needed the services of an interpreter. It was common for Chinese to appear in court to substantiate their legal status as bonafide immigrants under the exclusionary laws. With three immigrants of the same surname before the court, testimony may have required their answering questions about immediate blood relationships and family ties within their native village in China. Many immigrants had memorized answers to these questions prior to coming to America. Others who had immigrated before them would write home with a detailed question and answer dialogue based on their own interrogation. Native settlement maps were drawn giving full details about location of dwellings, rice fields and other villagers to aid the immigrants' memories. Chan Tin-Wo, a railroad cook, provides an example. He came to Tucson on the request of the Wongs and, after their case was resolved, Chan opened a general merchandise store on North Main." Unlike the Wongs, he became politically active. In the 1880 Great Registers there are no recorded Chinese who voted and in the Pima County register for 1882, Chan Tin-Wo is the only one listed. His native "village" is given as "China" and it is shown that he was naturalized the year before. It appears that in Pima County there were no social or political barriers for Chinese who wished to participate in deciding county or municipal issues. Of course, one had to be able to speak the institutional language, English.

The Arizona Daily Star of November 9, 1884, lists Chan Tin-Wo as a "most prosperous groceryman in this city. Chan is a Republican striker and may be said to be on the wrong side of the fence, but he has the reputation of being about as honest and square in his dealing as men are generally made." In 1895, before his return to China, Chan requested that a brother, Don Doan-Yook, and nephew, Don Chun-Wo, come to Tucson. As a legal resident and businessman he could sponsor relatives for immigration to the United States. Again, migration and settlement were dependent on relationships, and Chan Tin-Wo's ability to speak English was paramount to gaining the rights and privileges given to others.

Don Sing, another successful Chinese merchant, operated a small grocery on the Pima Indian reservation near Casa Grande. In A Pima Remember, George Webb relates that one afternoon a few Pimas were in the store searching for some kind of sweet. Don Sing, came up and asked what they wanted. They told him and he picked up a strawberry preserve and to their surprise he said in plain Pima: "Go 'ep sitoli we nags i-da," meaning, "This is pretty good. It has syrup on it." 16 Don had learned to speak the language by growing up with Pimas and Papagos. 17 Another grocer spoke of his early experiences in the 1900s. Until he was able to speak either English or Spanish with some fluency, his customers would bring with them bags of empty cans and packages to help identify what they wanted to purchase.

Lee Wee-Kuan, whose route of migration to Arizona took him through northern Mexico, settled and ran a grocery in the Yaqui village outside of Tucson. His choice to settle initially among the Spanish-speaking Yaquis was based on his experience in northern Mexico and his ability to speak their language. 18

Language and blood ties helped to determine settlement, but another important factor was the relationship of native villages with neighboring communities in China. This may have influenced Lee, who was from southeastern China, in his decision. There existed intense rivalry, for example, between members of two districts in Kwangtung, the Sam Yap and Sze Yap. The antagonism was so great that in Arizona immigrants from these two regions would not live in the same area. This concept of territory was reflected in migration and settlement patterns based on personal relationships. Kinship, as stated in the exclusionary laws, was a legal avenue for Chinese immigration. Chinese businesses were dependent on similar familial relationships which offered social and economic support.

Chinese immigrants in Arizona were primarily from the Sam Yap and Sze Yap Provinces, and in Tucson the earliest arrivals were from the former. Almost simultaneously others came from Toy San of the Sze Yap district. As their numbers increased, Sam Yap immigrants left. Lee Wee-Kuan was from Sun Wui and this may be the reason he first settled on the outskirts of Tucson. Sun Wui and Toy San residents in China were amiable since they were from the same district in southern Kwangtung province. With the influx of Sun Wui immigrants to Tucson, Lee Wee-Kuan eventually relocated within the city. This process of displacing one Chinese group with another based on native regionalism expresses solidarity along more subtle lines than ethnic grouping. As individuals, pioneer Chinese were usually more concerned with economic survival than with ethnic consolidation.

After their initial settlement, these newcomers found other occupations available in copper mining, domestic services and truck gardening. Not far from most towns were Chinese-tended vegetable gardens. In the Clifton area the men coordinated their efforts in cultivating fresh produce along the banks of the Gila River near Guthrie. Every two weeks, six Chinese from Clifton would go out to the gardens to relieve another group of six, who would then return to town. 19 The gardens at Fairbank, in southern Arizona, provided fresh produce for Tombstone and Benson. Along the Santa Cruz River near Tucson several parcels of land were leased in the 188os to Chinese farmers.

Over one hundred acres in the Tucson area were being cultivated by the Chinese at this time. Much of the land was owned by Leopoldo Carillo, Samuel Hughes, Solomon Warner and the Sisters of St. Joseph. During one of the water-rights hearings in 1883, a witness compared Chinese and Mexican gardens. A Mr. Stephens testified that the Chinese gardener


"raises cabbages, garlic and in fact everything in the vegetable line from an artichoke to the biggest cabbage, and the chinaman makes it a matter of business and he produces all he can, and as often as he possibly can. The Mexican garden produces a few chili peppers, onions, garbanzos, beans, melons & etc ...." 20


These fresh produce plots were irrigated from acequias twice as often as fields of wheat, barley and cotton. The Chinese gardens south of Sisters' Lane required water continuously, and several of the townspeople thought this distribution of water was unfair. Anglo landowners, however, were eager to lease available lands to the Chinese for cultivation, sometimes to the dissatisfaction of others. In a letter to the Presbyterian Home Mission in New York, Superintendent Howard Billman of the Tucson Indian School wrote on June 26, 1889, that he personally inspected the irrigation practices of the Chinese. "Some thieving Chinese above us were simply robbing us," he complained. 21

Thus Chinese gardeners became the suppliers of fresh produce that no other pioneer settler felt it profitable enough to market in northern, central and southern Arizona. An interesting location for a garden was even found at the Territorial Prison at Yuma. The Arizona Republic on November 10, 1893, reported the institution was in


"shipshape order, the lawns kept well and green with grass, the garden, where formerly calabasas [pumpkins] had been raised, is now transformed into a regular French vegetable garden attended by a Chinaman who is lodged there for life, and [who] deserves credit as a good vegetable gardener."


As businessmen the Chinese were well organized. Clara Ferrin of Tucson observed in 1897 that


adjoining their gardens are small huts built of adobes and ornamented by tin-cans, barley sacks and bushes, in which two or three partners or "cousins" as they call each other live together .... They do most of the work by hand, pushing steadily along behind the plow 'I the ground has been laid in smooth furrows .... As soon as the plants begin to grow they are covered with coal-oil cans to protect them from the sun .... The man who sells the product comes into town as early as five o'clock in the morning so that the vegetables will not be withered by the sun and will be fresh when they arrive in the market .... All that morning he goes house to house selling vegetables from a strong, but shabby wagon. Their methods of business are very exact .... They have their special customers and keep the account by marking down on the casement of the door the amount bought each day and at the end of the month they have not the trouble of making out bills. After selling nearly all their vegetables they breakfast with one of their city "cousins" in a grocery store.


Miss Ferrin wondered about the "great disadvantage it would be to us if the vegetable chinamen were all removed from Tucson." 22

The Chinese were an asset as well to early copper mining in the Territory. In 1879, forwarding agents Barnett and Block imported a trainload of the Asians to build a railway from the Longfellow mines to the smelting works in Clifton. 23 Henry Lesinsky, owner of the operation, desired to use Chinese labor, although he did not want to be responsible for starting a "Mongolian invasion of the territory." These laborers were assigned work that "even Mexicans cannot be got to do." 24

Chinese had been employed by Lesinsky a year earlier in the narrow ravines of the hills over thirty-five miles from the copper mines. Here they gathered and burned mesquite for charcoal used in the reduction process. They carried it with back packs for a mile to a location where the product could be transferred to wagon teams for shipment to the Mexican furnaces. To the discontent of the other miners, some Chinese eventually were employed in the underground shafts, although Lesinsky clearly stated that their labor would be separate from that of the others. 25

In Clifton, all the Chinese ultimately met with resistance from the Anglo residents of the mining camps. Most of them again sought refuge in other occupations available to them. Although they were not met with repressive measures such as the California Foreign Miners' Tax, Chinese miners were nevertheless unwelcome in Arizona. Had they learned from similar experiences in California? By the turn of the century those Asians in Clifton had already established themselves in other sectors of commerce that allowed them to expand with the developing Territory. In retail trades, credit was one feature which helped to establish Chinese businesses in the mining regions.

Nevertheless, in an atmosphere of anti-Chinese sentiment, these Oriental pioneers had to "withdraw from overt competition by engaging in occupations and businesses which supplemented the economic order." 26  To do this, they banded together to promote mutual business and social pursuits. Voluntary associations, called "tongs" by the Anglos, were not only business-oriented but acted as a support for the local elders in settling intra-group conflicts. For many early Chinese businesses, extended lines of credit and trade were arranged with already established firms in California and Arizona. Such forms of mutual aid were the mechanisms used to counteract external threats from western institutions.

An essential component in the Arizona economy was ranching. The Chinese, ever alert to opportunity in their new home, were raising cattle in the Territory as early as 1891. Brand registers in that year list Lim Kee as a stock owner in southern Arizona. In Pima County, You Cang of Lochiel registered his brand in 1898. You Cang had married a Mexican woman, Esperanza, in Lordsburg, New Mexico, in the 1890s. Their son Ernest, who was an American citizen by virtue of his birth in Arizona in 1897, was later considered one of the better ranch hands in southern Arizona.

In the northern section of the Territory, Louie Ghuey was one of the "progressive Chinese." He was the builder of the first brick building in Holbrook, and ads promoting the businesses of this enterprising pioneer appear in the Holbrook Argus from 1895 to 1898, when he owned a grocery, restaurant, bakery and photographic studio. It seems that Louie Ghuey rented his businesses to others in order to devote most of his time to real estate and photography. In the latter pursuit his reputation was that of a "celestial artist." In 1896, Louie Ghuey was commissioned by the Argus to photograph important businessmen, residences and reservoirs in Holbrook and surrounding towns.

By the late nineteenth century, Chinese settlers had participated in the major sectors of the Arizona economy; mining, railroad construction, agriculture, retail businesses, and ranching. They were now permanent residents and an established part of the Arizona scene; they could point to their contributions in the development of the region. Yet they still faced instances of discrimination and prejudice, even as they achieved a general acceptance within this desert society.

The family of Lee Kwong and Lai Ngan became the first Chinese to settle in Nogales, Arizona, and their experiences can be termed typical of those who came to the Territory and stayed. 27 They were the children of actors in a touring opera company that appeared in San Francisco theaters in the 1870s. Lee Kwong, many years older than Lai Ngan, had settled in San Francisco during the gold strike. At the time of the opera company's departure, Lai Ngan was left with relatives in California instead of returning to China with her parents. She became the wife of Lee Kwong in an arranged marriage. In 1884, she gave birth to her first son, Percy; then two daughters, Carmen in 1886, and Aurelia in 1888. In 1890 Lee Kwong traveled to Guaymas, Sonora, to prospect for gold. He took with him their six-year-old son Percy. Lai Ngan set out to meet them, sailing from San Francisco to Guaymas with her two infant daughters. During this period the family lived in Guaymas, where Kwong hoped to discover wealth in gold. Lai Ngan worked in a Chinese-owned shoe factory, where she ironed the upper parts of shoes to be sewn onto the soles. The children were cared for by her Indian friend and companion, Doña García.

Lai Ngan gave birth to four more children. In Guaymas, Concepcion was born in 1897. Louise was born near her father's mine at La Colorada in 1899, as was Marian in 1901, and Frank in 1903. Marian recalls the determination of her mother after her father sold their house out from under them:


Lai Ngan, my mother, started a little grocery store in La Colorada where she bought a house so we would have someplace to stay. One day a man came over and said to her, "You owe me some rent." She said, "What do you mean I owe you some rent? I bought this house myself." My mother got so mad. She got a stick and told him, "You get out of here and don't you ever come back looking for rent because I'm not going to give it to you. This is my house and I don't care how many times he sold it, it's mine." So the man never came back. When we left La Colorada, my mother just left the house and never got any money for it; maybe my father did. 28


Not wanting the children to be raised in Mexico, Lai Ngan returned to the United States in 1903 and settled in Nogales, Arizona. There she rented a big house for $25 a month. She also ran another small grocery. Lee Kwong followed. He sold lottery tickets morning, noon and night. They were the only Chinese family in Nogales, although there were several single Chinese men. Marian attended school with her brothers and sisters.

We used to have problems in Nogales when we were going to school. The Mexican kids used to tease us because we were Chinese. There were some Mexican boys in our neighborhood who would always take my brother and beat him up. My brother Frank, who was smaller and younger, would cry. One day I told them that if they didn't stop bothering him I was going to go after them. So they didn't believe me. One day they teased my brother so much I went after them and I beat one up something terrible. Oh, I just beat him to a "fare thee well." He was crying and crying and his brother asked him, "Aren't you ashamed of yourself? You let a girl beat you up?" He said, "I'm not crying 'cause it hurt me, I'm crying 'cause I'm mad." After that they never bothered Frank anymore. 29

In 1907 the family took in and nursed Rita, a young girl of Chinese-Mexican parentage who was stricken with malaria. The family and Rita developed a strong attachment. Rita's father, a conservative Chinese, wanted her raised in the Chinese tradition and speaking the Chinese language. He had followed Rita and her mother into Mexico, where they had fled with a Mexican man. After stealing Rita away, he brought her to the Lee household to live. After only a few years, she was taken away from the Lees and again given to another Chinese family who knew more of the traditional customs.


One evening, the family my sister Rita was living with invited us to stay for dinner. They set the table with chopsticks. We didn't know how to use chopsticks. It was really embarrassing. The people kept saying, "You're Chinese and you don't know how to use chopsticks? You might as well not be Chinese." Then they gave us forks to eat with. When we got back to Nogales, we told our mother that we were ashamed to be Chinese and not be able to do things Chinese people do. She said, "Hereafter you are going to learn to eat with chopsticks." So she bought the bowls and chopsticks and the spoons and everything else and showed us how to do it. 30


In 1914 Lee Kwong visited his eldest son Percy, who had moved to San Francisco where he worked for an import-export firm. Lee had longed to return to San Francisco and the Chinese community in which he spent his early days as an immigrant. While there, he suffered a stroke and died. The entire family then moved to San Francisco and they stayed until 1917, when Lai Ngan remarried. They then returned to Nogales, remaining there until 1918, when, upon the request of Mrs. Lim Goon, they decided to move to Tucson. The Lim Goons had bought rental property called the Moore Cottages on the northeastern edge of downtown, and offered the Lees room and board in exchange for managing them. That same year, Lai Ngan gave birth to Tom. After her death in 1940, a few family members remained in Tucson.

The Lee Kwong story emphasizes the role of the family, which within Chinese tradition is thought of as the most revered institution. It represents the ideal unit for maintaining one's identity and culture. In Arizona, Chinese bachelors, or men separated from their families, frequently adopted one. This filled the need for the several generations of relatives who maintained and observed traditional Chinese rituals. In Tucson, ethnic identity was often strengthened by the "tong," meaning association or clique. Here men could talk of the old days and of current Chinese affairs, play traditional games, and discuss the difficulties in adjusting to the West. Other places for interaction were at joss houses, opium dens and Chinese groceries and businesses. It was common for the building which housed a business to serve also as a residence, especially in the case of groceries and laundries, and most Chinese communities in Arizona prior to the 1900s could be described generally as "rooming house cultures." 31

Rituals performed in China were often re-enacted in the joss house, a landmark in most Arizona towns. To the residents of Clifton, Nogales, Phoenix and Tucson, the temples and rituals (which were a mystery to the Anglos) provided a source for racist slander. For the Chinese, the world of spirits is like the world of men. Ancestral worship would be observed during the New Year celebration and other Chinese festivals and holidays. Material subsistence was as necessary in the netherworld as it was in the realm of the living. In the Journal Miner for October to, 1879, an article on such beliefs was headlined, "Feeding the Dead."


R. J. Rutherford, the pioneer expressman, this morning performed the pious duty of taking two of the followers of Confucius, with a lot of roast pig, peaches, grapes and a bottle of brandy to Lynx Creek to feed a dead countryman, who has lain beneath the cold gravel of the lonely canyon, where he was murdered, a whole year, without a morsel of food or a drop of anything to cheer him on his journey to that flowery kingdom where all good Chinamen at last bring up. Rutherford says there was no throw off about the food: they left plenty of it and that which was good, on the grave, and as the two live celestials returned to town with him, there is no probability of their returning to bring away what their defunct friend may leave after satisfying his appetite.


Other cultural traits were regarded with suspicion by the Anglo community. Particular forms of dress, and foods, fruits and flowers held symbolic significance and had the power to avert or overcome evil for the Asians. The Chinese queue worn by all men until 1911 was a symbol of allegiance to the Ch'ing dynastic rule of the Manchurians, who dominated China from 1644 to 1911. The bound feet of the Chinese women was aesthetically pleasing and implied that a woman's position was stationary and in the home. White narcissus flowers brought good fortune and the peach blossoms long life. Arizona shopkeepers frequently gave their best customers flower bulbs during celebrations of Chinese holidays. All these customs and observances set the Chinese apart and made them different.

Family relationships were also a mystery to the white settlers and became the basis for discriminatory legislation. Because of restrictive immigration laws in force until 1943, the primary bond among Chinese did not usually extend beyond father-son, uncle-nephew or brother-to-brother connections. Few Chinese women made their way to the Territory. Those who did were usually reunited with husbands who had immigrated earlier. In 1871, the first Chinese woman-one of ten to live in the Territory-arrived in Prescott. Even within all-male groups, however, the function of kinship was vital in the maintenance of culture and in introducing immigrants to new geographical territories. Although most of the bachelor Chinese remained single, some married women of other races. A 1901 Arizona law prohibited Chinese from marrying Anglos, stating "the marriage of a person of Caucasian blood with a Negro or Mongolian is null and void." 32  Marriage between Chinese and Mexicans was accepted, as were relationships between them and members of other minority groups. Chinese with families were more readily acceptable to residents of the Territory than were single men. For the Chinese, marriage also dispelled the distrust and dislike of the "sojourner," who was only in the country temporarily to take advantage of its opportunities and wealth. Hi Wo, of Benson, was one immigrant who established an American family rather than return to China. In 1900 he married Emeteria Morena and raised four daughters: Isabel, Soledad, Victoria and Felicia; and one son, José. These children spoke no Chinese, celebrated none of their father's native festivals and took Spanish names. Their dominant language was Spanish and all were confirmed Catholics.

Their lack of numbers was one reason the Chinese in Tucson, Phoenix and other communities in Arizona did not develop into self-sufficient units familiar in San Francisco's Chinatown. Yet, it is important to note that the mandatory segregation of tens of thousands of the Asians in the 186os laid the framework for this independent community. In Tucson, a petition to "quarter" the Chinese was judged unconstitutional in 1893.33 Although in the 1880s there were Anti-Chinese Leagues in every major town in the Territory, Arizonans actually felt no threat from the "yellow peril."

The great problem for every Chinese community was to be apart from, yet part of, the larger society. Culturally distinguishable from Mexican, Indian, Negro and Anglo in the plural society of the greater Southwest, the Chinese soon learned to communicate in English and Spanish. Christian mission schools were institutions that helped them in this need. In Tucson the Chinese Mission School was located on Ott Street in the 1890s. Later, English was taught at the Chinese Evangelical Church on Meyer Street. One of the first mission schools established in the Territory was at Prescott in 1880. T. W. Otis, a pioneer merchant, was also one of the founders of the Presbyterian and Congregational churches in the old capital. Wanting to help the Chinese, he organized classes to instruct them in English, using the Bible and the hymnal as texts. In 1895, his ten Chinese students held a special service conducted entirely in English, singing hymns and reciting passages from the New Testament.

As a result of such programs the children began to lose their native culture. To the distress of their pioneer parents and grandparents, second and third generation children grew up without knowing how to speak Chinese. Some families could afford to send their children to China for instruction, thus reestablishing familial ties and maintaining an ethnic identity for the Arizona-born Orientals. In 1930, the Chinese Evangelical Church brought a minister from China to Tucson who was hired to conduct services in Chinese and to teach the children their ancestral language.

By the 1920s, however, many of the younger Orientals were participants in the mainstream of Anglo society. Their background was still visible in allegiances to political parties in China, and to family and business associations and commercial networks in Arizona and California, but they also contributed to the needs of their adopted state and country. Lee Park Lin was an interpreter for the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service and also served on civic committees in Tucson. Teamed with prominent Tucsonan Herbert Drachman, he promoted the sales of World War I bonds. Lee was also a deacon in the First Baptist Church until the 1920s, when he returned to California. Several Arizona Chinese were drafted into service during the war. In the 1930s, a traditional Chinese orchestra performed for community picnics at the Elysian Grove in Tucson. Throughout the state, they joined others in the celebration of Cinco de Mayo and Fourth of July holidays.

Politically, the Chinese were slow to become active. At the time of their arrival in the 1860s, the dominant Anglo institutions had decisively dealt with a varied population that included native Indians and a Hispanic majority. Promotion by Anglos of Mexican enfranchisement might have slowed development of the Territory and the granting of statehood. The course taken was one of political noninclusion and cultural indifference. The early Chinese immigrants to the Territory were also political nonentities. Their numbers, and those seeking full participation in voting rights, were minimal. It was Cham Tin-Wo, however, who cast the decisive vote in favor of a bond issue for the construction of Drachman School in the 1890s. At the time, his business and home were located in today's "Barrio Historico" of Tucson. Chan, Heng-Lee, Gee Soon and a handful of others were registered prior to the turn of the century and they always followed party lines and supported popular issues. As an ethnic group, consolidated voting would never threaten the power of Anglo political institutions.

It is within this diverse economic, political and social climate that the Chinese pioneers settled in Arizona. Many came but left no lasting mark. Discrimination, undesirable working conditions, or the hardships of frontier life drove them out. Many stayed, however, and prospered. They made the most of very little, providing services or goods that the existing population began to depend on, and over the years they gave much toward the development of the Territory. The Chinese share in the Arizona fortune and found a lasting place within the unique cultural plurality of the Southwest.


1 The bill specified that all who wished to mine, and who were not native-born citizens of the United States, or who had become citizens under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, were required to pay a license fee of twenty dollars a month. Many of the Chinese miners, either unwilling or unable to pay the tax, went into these other occupations.

2 The Railroad Gazette, September 19, 1870.

3 Circular in Julius Goldbaum Collection, Arizona Historical Society (AHS), Tucson.

4 H. Mark Lai and Philip P. Choy, Outlines: History of the Chinese in America (Privately published, 1972. Distributed by Everybody's Bookstore, San Francisco), pp. 89-90.

5 Cheng-Tsu, ed., Chink! (New York: World Publishers, 1972), pp. 17-19.

6 Mary Coolidge, Chinese Immigration (New York: H. Holt & Co., 1909), p. 183.

7 Ibid.

8 Stan Steiner, Fusang (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), p. 88.

9 Rodolfo Acufia, Occupied America (San Francisco: Canfield Press, 1972), pp. 93-94.

10 Daily Arizona Miner, November 27, 1869.

11 Daily Arizona Miner, June 13, 1868.

12 Captain James Hobbs, Wild Life in the Far West (Hartford, Connecticut: Wiley, Waterman and Eaton, 1873).

13 Figures based on the 1870 and 1880 Federal Census for New Mexico and Arizona Territories (Washington: Government Printing Office).

14 Chun-Wo Don to Joseph A. Roberts, January 22, 1935, biographical file at AHS, Tucson.

15 Ibid.

16 George Webb, A Pima Remembers (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1959), pp. 74-75.

17 James Don, interview with LMF in Florence, Arizona, February, 1978.

18 Lee Kim Wah, interview with LMF in Tucson, Arizona, March, 1977.

19 Al Fernandez, interview with LMF in Clifton, Arizona, September, 1978.

20 Manuscript in Charles Rivers Drake Collection, AHS, Tucson.

21 Reverend Howard Billman to B. Boyd, June 26, 1889, in Tucson Indian Training School Collection, Letter Press, p. 282, at AHS, Tucson.

22 Unpublished and untitled manuscript in Clara Ferrin Collection dated June 5, 1897, AHS, Tucson.

23 The Arizona Citizen (Tucson), July 18, 1879.

24 The Arizona Enterprise (Prescott), July 31, 1878.

25 The Post (San Francisco),July 25, 1878.

26 Rose Hum Lee, The Chinese in the United States of America (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press and Oxford University Press, 1960), pp. 252-253.

27 Marian Lim, fifth child of Lee Kwong and Lai Ngan, interviews with LMF, 1979, in Tucson, Arizona.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid.

31 Rose Hum Lee, The Chinese in the United States of America, p. 330.

32 Arizona Legislative Assembly, Revised Statutes of Arizona Territory, 1901 (Columbia, Missouri: Press of E. W. Stephens, 1901) #3092, p. 809.

33 The 1890 Sanborn maps for Tucson locate a Chinese and Mexican settlement north of Alameda Street. The 1883 Sanborn map shows that a few general stores operated by Chinese were located in the Barrio Libre. The areas bordered by Main, Pennington and Pearl Streets included Chinese businesses and dwellings and it is believed that Mexicans and other members of minority groups lived nearby.

Permission to present this electronic version of Sojourners and Settlers: The Chinese Experience in Arizona was granted by the author and the Arizona Historical Society

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