Taking Care of Our Own
also provided Chinese immigrants with the social support networks
that were not available to them anywhere else. District associations,
made of up immigrants who came from the same part of China, performed
many of the roles that government agencies or charities would
otherwise have fulfilled: They found jobs for new arrivals, cared
for the sick and poor, and arranged for the bones of the dead
to be sent back to their homeland. These associations soon became
like a secondary system of government, and their leaders served
as representatives to the non-Chinese population, sometimes becoming
well-known public figures. Organized crime also arrived in Chinatowns,
sometimes associated with organizations called tongs, but the
district associations fought, usually successfully, to keep the
neighborhoods free of serious gang activity.
organizations also formed to provide needed services in America's
Chinatowns. In 1925, for example, fifteen service groups in San
Francisco's Chinatown combined their efforts to raise funds to
build the city's Chinese hospital. District associations, social
service organizations, cultural groups, churches, and temples
all played an important role in the social life of Chinatowns.
Though most Chinese Americans now live outside of Chinatowns,
many still participate in these organizations as a means of strengthening
the fabric of community life.
Chinatowns soon became a source of fascination to many non-Chinese Americans. They were popular destinations for adventurous tourists, and were often portrayed in the media as either romantic enclaves of colorful Asian life, or as dangerous pits of vice. Tours of Chinatowns sometimes included staged arrests of supposed gangsters and assassins, who were then released as soon as the tourists and cameras had passed by. Today, the public image of Chinese American culture is much less sensationalistic, but tourism continues to be an important part of life in many Chinatowns.
For more about Chinatown in San Francisco, visit The Chinese in California, 1850-1925: San Francisco's Chinatown.