An Imagined Population: The Racialized Erasure of Riverside, California’s Chinese Community in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries
Mentor:Susan Hall, Doctoral Student, University of California, Riverside
In 2008, the Save Our Chinatown Committee, based in Riverside, California, endeavored to protect the remains of a Chinatown that emerged in the late 19th century and was destroyed in the 1970s. Conservation efforts included an attempt to compile a list of names of the residents of Chinatown for a proposed monument and an online archive. The research was undertaken to answer a seemingly simple question – What were the names residents of Chinatown? In order to gain insight into the identities of the Chinese community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the 12th and 14th U.S. Census, as well as the Riverside Press and Horticulturalist from the years of 1880 to 1888 were used. Both were accessed through the microfilm collections at the Tomás Riviera Library at the University of California, Riverside. Newspaper citations were obtained from “A Selected Chronological History of Chinese Pioneers in Riverside and the Southern California Citrus Belt” in Wong Ho Leun: An American Chinatown, Vol. 1, by Harry Lawton. Articles within the chronology about Chinatown were located in the microfilm. After locating Chinatown in the census, resident’s names were recorded. Limitations include damaged microfilm; racist newspaper articles; census enumerator’s unreadable handwriting; fraudulent names in the census; and inaccurate newspaper citations in Lawton’s chronology. The xenophobic newspaper articles illustrate the prejudices and discourses of the hegemony, while the falsified census illustrates their methods of oppression. This research indicates the importance of using multiple sources and narratives in the interpretation of census information of marginalized communities. Corrections to incorrect newspaper citations and a method to decode them in Lawton’s chronology are also discussed. This research may provide insight into the narratives of the Chinatown Community; be utilized in the discourse of racism in the census; and aid the interpretation of the Chinatown archaeological site.