There were a few spots in Chinatown that were closed when I went to visit them on Day 7. I decided a return visit was in order. I was able to return pretty easily, considering that according to official San Francisco definitions, I live in Chinatown!
St. Mary’s Square/Old St. Mary’s Cathedral
A historic Catholic church is not the first thing that comes to mind when picturing Chinatown. Nevertheless, Old St. Mary’s Cathedral is an important site in Chinatown. On the way to Old St. Mary’s, I passed through St. Mary’s Square, a small park directly across the street.
Also in St. Mary’s Square is a memorial to Chinese-Americans who died in World War I and II.
From St. Mary’s Square, I crossed California Street and the cable car line to visit Old St. Mary’s. Old St. Mary’s was closed when Francisco and I stopped by on Day 7. This was the 1st reason why I revisited Chinatown.
Chinese Historical Society of America
The Chinese Historical Society of America’s museum is Chinatown’s hidden gem. It was really hidden for most of 2016, when it was closed for the installation of a new major exhibit. It was still closed when Francisco and I stopped by on Day 7. (But I did take a couple pictures of the exterior of the historic building, designed by local favorite Julia Morgan as the Chinatown YWCA in 1932.) This was the 2nd reason why I revisited Chinatown.
The CHSA was closed for several months during the installation of what is now its signature exhibit: “Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion”. The exhibit covers the history of Sino-American relations and the Chinese-American experience. A major focus of the exhibit is the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese to the United States for over 40 years.
There’s a lot of symbolism in the long mural. On the left, rice paddy workers toil in the field, while a dragon, representing China, flies over the Great Wall. Next, a man looks toward a gold mountain, which represents America and San Francisco The Chinese believed America and San Francisco to be a land and city of gold thanks to the Gold Rush. Like this man, the next 2 men have left their families behind to work in America, panning for gold and creating the Transcontinental Railroad. Later on, women have now come to America. The brick wall represents segregation and Exclusion. Chinese culture blossoms in America as a lion dance is performed for Chinese New Year. A soldier serves as a reminder that Chinese-Americans fought for their country in WWII but faced discrimination back home. At the end of the struggle, a Chinese-American family embraces the American dream and their 2 cultures.
The mural was controversial in its time. Some Chinatown residents were unhappy with how Chinese-Americans were depicted. Some groups–the FBI, the Chinese Communist Party, and others–thought James Leong had painted secret messages into the mural. The mural fell into neglect and disrepair. In 2000, James Leong restored his mural to its original glory. The mural is now considered a landmark artwork of cultural history.
Once more, I returned to Portsmouth Square, Chinatown’s gathering spot.
I actually didn’t go back to Portsmouth Square for the heck of it. I went to return to the Chinese Culture Center, which was closed when Francisco and stopped by on Day 7. That’s right, the 3rd reason why I revisited Chinatown. Unfortunately, it was closed again on my return trip to Chinatown.
After dinner in Chinatown, I walked down Stockton Street on the way home. Grant Avenue is where the tourists congregate, going into overpriced trinket shops and admiring the Chinese lanterns strung over the street. Stockton Street is the heart of authentic Chinatown.
Chinese Culture Center/41 Ross
I returned to Chinatown a week later because I was determined to see the Chinese Culture Center. The Chinese Culture Center features contemporary art by Chinese-American artists. When I got there, the main exhibit area was closed for renovations. Foiled again! However, the staff directed me to 41 Ross, their satellite gallery located just a few blocks away.
Final Farewell, Chinatown
Having at last made a visit to the Chinese Culture Center, it was time to wrap up my 4 days exploring Chinatown. Even outside the galleries, there so much great art to see out on the street for anyone passing by.
Well, I think my revisits to Chinatown were definitely worth the (short) trips.
And that’s San Francisco. Do you love it or what!
[Factual information is primarily gathered from Wikipedia, so you know it must be true.]