Five Chinatowns of Los Angeles

Thursday, April 20, 2023, 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Type: Open Type

Tags: Asian American; Local and Community History; Oral History


This program features the Five Chinatowns Community History Project, conducted by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California (CHSSC). Our project brings together community members and scholars to retell the often-overlooked history of the five Chinatowns that existed in Los Angeles before 1965. In the process, we remedy a crucial void in the historiography of Asian Americans. At this OAH program, project co-leads William Gow and Isabela Quintana discuss the project with Suellen Cheng of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance. The presentation will include select oral histories, community photos, and related historical sources documenting this history.

Session Participants

Chair: Suellen Cheng, Chinese American Citizens Alliance and Chinese American Museum
Suellen Cheng earned her M.A. degree in American History from UCLA. For over four decades, Suellen Cheng has been championing the recognition and advancement of Chinese Americans in California. She was one of the leading developers of the Chinese American Museum (CAM) at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument where she served as the Museum Director before her retirement. She developed over a dozen exhibits for El Pueblo and CAM. She has published articles on the history of Chinese Americans in Los Angeles and served as a consultant for media and local museums. She volunteered in her community in area of historical preservation and served on the Board of several non-profit organizations including Los Angeles City Historical Society, Southwest Oral History Association, and Chinese Historical Society of Southern California. Currently she serves as the National Historian of the Chinese America Citizens Alliance. Under her tenure, the 100-years of historical records of the organization were digitally indexed and transferred to Stanford University Libraries.

Presenter: William Gow, California State University Sacramento
William Gow, Ph.D. is a San Francisco-based community historian, educator, and documentary filmmaker. A fourth-generation Chinese American and a proud graduate of the San Francisco Unified School District, he holds an M.A. in Asian American Studies from UCLA and a Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley. Before receiving his doctorate, he taught history for nearly a decade in California public schools.While working as a public school teacher, he served for eight years as a volunteer historian and board member at the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California (CHSSC), a non-profit devoted to documenting the history of Chinese Americans in Southern California. At the CHSSC, he founded and directed the Chinatown Remembered Project. In 2019, the Western History Association awarded him the Vicki Ruiz Award for best journal article on Race in the North American West for his piece, “A Night in Old Chinatown: American Orientalism, China Relief Fundraising, and the 1938 Moon Festival in Los Angeles,” published in Pacific Historical Review. He currently serves as an assistant professor of Asian American studies at CSU Sacramento.

Presenter: Isabela Seong Leong Quintana, UC Irvine
Isabela Seong Leong Quintana is the author of a book manuscript entitled "Urban Borderlands: Neighborhood and Nation in Chinese and Mexican Los Angeles, 1870s-1930s" that is currently under advance contract with an academic press. It examines the spatial production of borders in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and Sonoratown neighborhoods surrounding the Plaza. Her “urban borderlands” framework takes Los Angeles’ Plaza area as a site of multiple, overlapping borders—where Chinese and Mexican diasporas shared daily living spaces and experiences of segregation, while also negotiating practices of exclusion aimed at restricting Chinese immigration and later repatriating Mexicans. Using space, gender, and work as vital categories of analysis, her study interrogates the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century racial geography of Los Angeles. Her manuscript demonstrates that, although this period is often seen through the eyes of reformers and public officials, residents—Chinese and Mexican men, women and children—shaped cultural geography daily through the configuration of public places, homes, schools, and businesses.