Chinese Americans became architects
own destiny in 1938, when they
built a "New Chinatown,"
North Broadway in Los Angeles.
operated exclusively by Chinese
New Chinatown was quite different
Chinatown in many ways. Design
traditional Chinese architecture,
to appeal to American travelers
Union Station. In 1943, repeal
of the exclusionary
laws meant that Chinese Americans
participate fully in American
Americans were consumed by World
like the rest of the nation during
New Chinatown became the center
of the "home
front" for the Chinese Community
|Soochow Restaurant at Night
Courtesy of Leslee See Leong
Peter Soo Hoo Made New Chinatown a Reality
Peter Soo Hoo, President of the Chinese American Association, negotiated with Herbert Lapham of the Santa Fe Railway Company to purchase land and build New Chinatown. Soo Hoo formed a corporation with twenty-eight men and women, each contributing $500 per share. One of Southern California's first pedestrian malls, New Chinatown's brightly colored buildings and tiled pagoda roofs attracted tourists, shoppers and diners. The eighteen stores and bean cake factory also served the social and economic needs of the community.
The clean, contemporary appearance of New Chinatown did much to raise the status of Chinese Americans in Los Angeles. Inscribed "Cooperate to Achieve," New Chinatown's west gate was constructed as a tribute to Chinese laborers who built the railroads of California. Y.C. Hong erected the east gate in honor of his mother and the self-sacrifices of motherhood.
Enlistment and Marriage
As the mixed-race daughter of Fong See and
Letticie Pruett, Florence See experienced
discrimination, both in Chinatown and from
the outside community. After Pearl Harbor,
and eight years of courtship, Gilbert Leong
enlisted in the Army and finally proposed
to Florence. Gilbert's mother was the revered
teacher of Chinese-language and the keeper
of traditions. His father was president
of the Kong Chow Family Association. They
held considerable moral authority in the
community and it was difficult for them to
approve of the marriage. In time however,
the Leong's grew to love Florence for her
ability to balance Chinese traditions with
American culture. The marriage of Florence
See and Gilbert Leong symbolizes the changes
occurring in Chinatown during the 1940s.
Ties to Home: The Chinese-Language School
|Chinese-language schools were often affiliated
with religious missions seeking to reach
new converts. Children could attend the schools
as long as they also attended religious services
and Sunday school. Mrs. Leong was one of
the prominent teachers in the Los Angeles
Chinatown. She taught children to read and
write Chinese so they could communicate with
the older generations, write letters to their
grandparents in China and get along when
they returned to China. Students started
by writing simple characters with only a
few strokes, such as sun and moon, and then
moved on to more difficult characters. Children
attended the Chinese-language schools every
afternoon from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. and on Sundays
from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Student Readers and
Workbooks used in
Los Angeles Chinatown,
Courtesy of Leslee
||Kids at chalkboard
Chinese Language School. Chinese requires
the student to write characters over and
over again until they become ingrained. Students
start with simple characters with a few strokes
such as sun and moon, then eventually learn
characters with ten or more strokes. They
also memorize and recite poems verbatim.
Courtesy of Photo Collection, Los Angeles
The Japanese Invasion Galvanized Chinatown
After conquering Manchuria in 1931,
mounted periodic raids into China. In July
1937 they staged massive attack, seizing
nearly all Chinese coastal cities and industrial
areas. By October 1938, the Japanese Army
controlled all of China's eastern provinces
from Manchuria to Guangdong. Mao Tse-tung
and Chiang Kai-shek temporarily put aside
their differences to fight the Japanese.
Reports of the "Rape of Nanking" galvanized
Chinese American communities in the United
States. The Sino-Japanese War cut off Chinese
Americans from their relatives in China,
causing them to become politicized as they
never had before.
Japanese Invasion. Horrors of War cards.
Courtesy of Montgomery Hom
Finally, the Repeal of Chinese Exclusion
Laws in 1943
With China as an ally during World
the Chinese Exclusion Acts became an increasing
embarrassment for the United States. On
December 17, 1943, President Franklin D.
Roosevelt signed the Magnuson Act, repealing
all laws dealing with Chinese exclusion.
Although the new law assigned only a token
annual immigration quota of 105 Chinese,
Chinese immigrants gained the right to become
naturalized citizens. Yet, few new Chinese
immigrants were accepted into the United
States or naturalized during the first ten
years after repeal.
War Relief for China
Horrified at reports coming out of
about starvation, orphaned children, and
the rape of women, Chinese American women
helped raise money to defend China and alleviate
the suffering of its people. They encouraged
all women to wear cotton stockings instead
of Japanese silk. They raised money for
food and medical supplies by organizing bazaars,
fashion shows and theatrical productions.
Chinese Americans raised funds for war bonds,
the New Life Movement, Rice Bowl Campaign
and Seven-Seven Campaign. More money was
raised to support war relief in Los Angeles
than in any other Chinese American community.
||Moon Festival at Hop Sing Benevolent Association.
Courtesy of Lisa See.
The Home Front in Chinatown
The Sino-Japanese War energized the
American community. After Pearl Harbor,
new opportunities opened up as non-Chinese
workers shipped out. Chinese Americans now
found work in craft industries, as well as
professional and technical occupations.
Concerned about being confused with Japanese
Americans who were being forcibly interned
in desert camps, the Chinese Consolidated
Benevolent Association printed up insignias,
registration certificates, pins and armbands
promoting Chinese-American allegiance. A
1939 Chinatown survey showed that (Chinese
American) teenagers were increasingly enamored
with popular culture. On the radio, they
listened to Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, George
Burns, Gracie Allen and Al Jolsen. The girls
adored Bing Crosby, while the boys preferred
the Hit Parade Orchestra.
AWVS Ran Canteens for Servicemen in Chinatown
In November 1942, the AWVS Chinese
sponsored by the New York-based American
Women's Voluntary Service, opened a servicemen's
canteen on Spring Street, off Sunset Boulevard.
In September 1944, the canteen relocated
to the Leong family's Soochow Restaurant
in New Chinatown. Serving 1,500 military
personnel each month, 105 women kept the
canteen open, making it the "best place next
to home," and the "first real friendly" canteen.
The Soochow Canteen also became the headquarters
of a Chinese Air Force detachment stationed
in Santa Ana. Giving their time and energy,
AWVS women proved themselves important assets,
not only in Chinatown, but also to the greater
City of Los Angeles.
||American Woman Volunteer Service.
Courtesy of Photo Collection,
|California Korean and Chinese Reserves at
the Presentation of Colors and State License.
Courtesy of Photo Collection, Los Angeles
The See Family During World War II
The war also affected the See family.
waterways remained virtually closed for the
duration, little merchandise crossed the
Pacific for the store and business dwindled.
Because his employees were leaving to work
in defense industries, Eddy closed Dragon's
Den in 1943. See Manufacturing was converted
for the war effort, making map holders for
fuselages and airplane wings, and allowing
Ray, Bennie and Eddy to receive deferments.
Shortly after Florence See and Gilbert Leong
married, Ticie See died on January 4, 1943.
Soon the family partnership disintegrated.