Johnson Sing was always in demand – or at least his asparagus was. Sing, an ethnic Chinese person born in Los Angeles, grew the finest asparagus in Los Angeles County on his El Monte farm in the 1920s, according to an article in a 1926 edition of the Los Angeles Times. Sing was a member of a small community of Chinese residents who lived in the San Gabriel Valley and Whittier area at the turn of the century. Before the 1965 Immigration Act allowed increased immigration to the United States – and long before Monterey Park and surrounding cities in the late 1970s became a destination for ethnic Chinese from all over Asia – a small group of Chinese Americans for over a century carved out a life in the area. Starting during the Gold Rush in the late 1840s, Chinese Americans washed laundry, harvested crops, packed oranges, smashed grapes and dug water trenches, all to survive in what was then the rough-and-tumble Old West, according to historical accounts from the time. “When I looked into it, I was shocked to see how deep our roots are,” said Susie Ling, a history professor at Pasadena City College, who is Chinese American. “It just gives me incredible feelings of heritage and legacy.” According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the San Gabriel Valley has one of the largest Chinese-American communities in the country. But go back 140 years and just 16 ethnic Chinese were documented living in the county, according to records at the Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles. The number steadily increased to about 3,200 in 1900, according to the museum. Most Chinese in the West were recruited in the 1860s to build the western portion of the transcontinental railroad, said Pauline Wong, interim executive director of the museum. “They were sojourners,” Wong said. “The plan was that they would work for a few years and then go home. But many chose to stay.” After the railroad was built, many Chinese began opening laundries after discovering that most of the white men in the area did not like doing their own. Local museum officials can verify Chinese laundries existed in Whittier, Pasadena and La Verne. While the Chinese were earning a reputation as dependable workers, the federal government was making laws discriminating against them. The Geary Act of 1892 extended an 1882 immigration ban against the Chinese and required them to carry a certificate of residence, without which they could be deported or imprisoned, according to the Chinese American Museum. In 1893, Chinese in Whittier failed to register under the act and were arrested, according records from the Whittier Museum and the Chinese American Museum. Laws to exclude Chinese from immigrating lasted until 1943. Because of the anti-immigration laws, many men were never able to bring over their wives and families, Ling said. “I looked through the records,” Ling said. “You don’t see any women.” After studying the area’s history, Ling concluded that Chinese Americans have just as much right to California’s history as any other ethnicity. “I just don’t think we Chinese know about our heritage in the area,” she said. “If Asian Americans knew how deep this history was, we would feel even more American, if that’s possible.” [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2703 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
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