By guest blogger Steven Moreno-Terrill
On Sunday, November 5th, 2017, about 35 people braved a solid morning drizzle to embark on a reimagining of downtown Riverside by foot. Led by a trio of extremely knowledgeable and passionate tour guides Rosalind Sagara, Michiko Yoshimura, and Judy Lee, participants were able to walk a carefully planned route of seven significant Asian American historical sites to hear stories that aren’t necessarily recognizable in the cityscape as it currently stands. A joint effort by the Save Our Chinatown Committee, the Japanese American Citizens’ League - Riverside Chapter, and the UCR Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies, as well as assistance from the Relevancy and History Project Partnership between UCR and California Citrus State Historic Park, this walking tour aimed to illuminate Riverside’s hidden histories of Asian Americans connected with existing and former structures in downtown.
The tour consisted of landmarked sites and buildings as well as sites that are not formally commemorated or evident in the built environment. This 90-minute journey through Riverside’s past began at 10:30am on the corner of 9th Street and Main in front of the Culver Center where Rosalind gave an overview about why this tour matters, and why it is important to call forth the legacies represented by these sites, which are lost to the hustle and bustle of contemporary life in downtown.
For instance, along the tour on the corner of Orange Street and University Avenue is where the story of successful citrus labor contractor, Ulysses Kaneko, and his connection to the Roosevelt Building--also the former site of the Harada family’s Washington Restaurant was highlighted. The Harada House, a National Historic Landmark, was a point on the tour where guide Michiko Yoshimura, herself incarcerated during World War II, discussed her personal connections to Sumi Harada as well as the landmark civil rights case connected to the site. The final sites on the tour led the group back to the downtown pedestrian mall where the Abbott block on Sixth and Main, the Mission Inn, and the Dosan Ahn Chang Ho statue served as markers of Riverside’s Asian American legacy. This richly storied tour through the heart of the city wrapped up with a call for support toward the important and impactful preservation efforts of the collaborating organizations who hosted the event.
In addition to pointing out important sites and individuals related to Asian American and Riverside history, this tour also went deeper bringing to light the racial politics surrounding issues of migration and immigration, labor, community formation, citizenship, displacement, and belonging. The narratives of struggle and resistance were integral to the tour and provided a more nuanced recounting of these hidden histories. The guides also utilized images and artifacts to help the tour goers visualize the history. Attending and assisting on the tour for the first time, California Citrus State Historic Park Interpretive Specialist Michaela Malneritch noted, “I thought the tour was very interesting and engaging with large photo displays and binders of pictures which added to the talk. Overall, I really enjoyed it and learned a lot about Riverside’s Asian American history.”
Ultimately, the tour enabled participants to walk and read the downtown cityscape in new ways that are inclusive of Riverside’s Asian American history so that it is not seen as something apart from the city’s heritage, but instead, viewed as an integral component. Those who participated left with a new critical mapping of the city that highlighted issues of inequality and struggles for justice.
At this year's Ching Ming, SOCC shared information about Wong Tong Yen, Riverside's traveling Chinese barber. Mr. Wong worked in Riverside and San Bernardino Chinatown and made regular visits to the homes on Chinese vegetable gardens along the way. Itinerant barbers' work dwindled after the queue hairstyle was no longer maintained after 1910. As such, Mr. Wong had little work in the last years of his life and died a poor man on May 26, 1914. He was buried in Olivewood Cemetery in a section of the cemetery where most Chinese were laid to rest. His burial expenses were paid by local Chinese residents, likely by the Chee Kung Tong organization, of which he was a member. Mr. Wong left a wife and two children in China. According to a local newspaper report, he made only one trip to China to visit his family since his immigration to the U.S. Cemetery records reveal that he was disinterred in August 1937.
At SOCC's Chong Yang fundraiser this Fall, North High School student Adrian Claiborne Jr. shared his experience making the documentary Preserving the Past: Chinatown, which highlighted SOCC's work to preserve Riverside Chinatown. The film was completed in Summer 2016 as part of UCR's Off the Block Documentary workshop, a media literacy and film production summer intensive for local high school students. Many thanks to Off the Block's Scott Hernandez and all the high schoolers for their time and talent! Go to the following link to check out the film: https://vimeo.com/181263653