Santa Cruz Chinatown Tour, Round 2

Thursday, May 17th

Meet at the small plaza behind Mobo Sushi on Front Street (which is between Trader Joe’s and Riverfront Cinema downtown)

Although the chinatown of Santa Cruz is no more, it was once where Downtown Santa Cruz is today. It was first developed in the mid-1860s, but after many years of struggles, a disastrous flood in 1955 persuaded the small population of remaining residents to disperse.

The tour will be lead by George Ow, who not only is apart of the last family that moved out of Santa Cruz Chinatown, but is one of the last remaining survivors of Santa Cruz Chinatown. He will show you where buildings once were and share his very touching life experiences.

So grab some lunch downtown and head over to the meeting spot!!! Transportation accomodations may be requested via email (, but are not garaunteed.

Some pictures from our May 8th trip:

George Ow sent a letter to CSA after our May 8th Santa Cruz Chinatown Tour giving some more insight about the commonly unknown struggles he and other Chinese residents faced during the time of Santa Cruz Chinatowns.

Hi [CSA]

Thanks for bringing the group for the Chinatown tour. […] I am really saddened at learning that UCSC does not have Asian American History courses anymore. I am heartened that there are those of you who will take the time to learn outside of class.There is so much to know and so many fascinating stories.When you see the faces of the old men in Chinatown, you see a lifetime of hard labor for pennies and living under stringent anti-Chinese laws that were enacted to keep California and America “a white man’s country.” The labor that Chin Lai, Ah Fook and their peers did helped to transform California into an economic dynamo. You probably know that if it weren’t for the Chinese, the railroads would not have been built in such a timely and efficient fashion. Chinese labor, muscle and ingenuity enabled California to be connected to the rest of the country. You probably do not know that Chinese labor, muscle and ingenuity was just as important in agriculture, fisheries, road construction, industry and any other work that needed to be done. If you read “Chinese Gold“, you will find that Chinese were routinely killed in the building of railroads, public works projects and private businesses, such as the Santa Cruz gunpowder works. They were given the hardest, most dangerous jobs and paid barely enough to live on. That is why most did not make it back to China alive.The major source of legislation was the anti-Chinese law of 1882, which basically cut down Chinese immigration. A date of infamy. This legislation was based on race, not nationality. Meaning that if you were Chinese, it did not matter if you were born in England, France, South Africa or anywhere in the world. You were still Chinese in terms of this very racist law. But there were literally hundreds of other federal, state and local laws that banned Chinese from becoming naturalized citizens, from owning land, from voting, from going to schools, from living outside of Chinatown, from going into most businesses, from being served in many businesses, from using poles to carry things, from flying kites and on and on. The term, a “Chinaman’s chance” was a commonly used term. If you had a “Chinaman’s chance” of doing something, It meant that you had NO chance. And these were LAWS, so you can imagine the feeling of the people who voted on and enacted these laws.The old men in the pictures had a lifetime of this, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year. They came as eager immigrants who wanted to succeed, but the deck was stacked against them. When World War II started, defence and other jobs began opening up for Chinese/Asians, black people and Mexicans because it was a life and death struggle and many men and women were in the armed forces. Those left behind had to build the ships, tanks, guns and keep the country going. Chin Lai and his peers talked to my father, who was [then] 21 or 22 years old. They told him he was so lucky to be born when he was and to be able to take advantage of this opportunity — decent jobs, decent paying jobs, some respect. They knew it was too late for them, they were now old and worn out.My father went into the U.S. Army and helped liberate New Guinea and the Philipine Islands. He was in Korea getting ready to invade Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped and the war ended. He came back and became a partner in a small grocery store above Cannery Row in Monterey. He and my mom moved on to larger stores and then real estate. I was trained to be in business from an early age and worked regularly with the family businesses from age 8.There were hardly any children in Santa Cruz Chinatown because there were few families, as legislation made it almost impossible for women to immigrate — and anti-miscegenation laws (law in California until 1948) made it illegal to marry non-Chinese/Asians. So the old men had no families. They liked and enjoyed the few Chinese kids around like me and I liked them. I feel so lucky to have known them, the first valiant wave who laid on the barbed wire so that the next generations could climb over them and run up the beachhead.If you look closely at the picture on the cover of “Chinatown Dreams“, you will see Ah Fook giving me his blessing. It is as if he is saying, “my time is almost over. I did the best I could, but the times were tough and the opportunities few. But you, Ow Wing Hong/George Ow, Jr., I give you all the lofty hopes and aspirations I came to America with as a teenager and I will bring you luck and support so that you can live the life I never did. When you grow up, a “Chinaman’s chance” will mean respect, prosperity and unlimited opportunity.” I have been unbelieveably successful in all ways and I feel that these men and their peers are pulling strings for me on the other side. I can feel their spirits walking the hills of Santa Cruz, where many hundreds of Chinese worked — and their labor did great things for other people.If you get in the right psychological space, you can feel the spirits of these Chinese pioneers too. I tell you they are here and I know they are pulling for you too. Their message to you is that, we are proud of you. It gives them (and me too) great joy to see so many of our young people get college educations and move up the ranks in life. They feel that you taking advantage of the opportunities that were not available to them makes their lives worthwhile and it feeds their spirits.In Chinese culture, it is important to remember those who came before you and paved the way. By publishing the books, I am seeing that the stories, names and history is remembered. It is like burning incense. I personally find it fitting that the names, stories and even photos of Chinese who were at the bottom of the social totem pole during their lifetimes are today more famous than the political, social and business bigwigs of their day. It is karmic justice.I hope you learn more about Asian American History. If you want any of the books we published [such as “Chinatown Dreams“], email me and you can have them for cost–$10 each. “Chinese Gold” is sold out and will not be available for some months. We are printing our 4th edition. The first three editions totaled 12,000 copies.

George Ow, Jr.