It was a chilly and damp day– apparently typical weather for Northern California in April. It was also the day that I began my walking tour through San Francisco’s Chinatown. Growing up in the Midwest, I had always thought of Chinatown as a chaotic tourist attraction, full of endless shops selling “I Love San Francisco” t-shirts, hardly depicting true Chinese culture. I doubted any similarities between a crowed tourist destination and my everyday life. However, to my disbelief, San Francisco’s Chinatown was bursting with culture.
I quickly learned that the Chinese immigrants had long endured a struggle with the United States’ government; a fight to preserve their customs and heritage. In order for the Chinese immigrants to reside in Chinatown, they were compelled to sell tourist items. True, shops were barraged with countless trinkets, but the Chinese were adamant in ensuring that their diverse culture would not fade despite the government’s demands. The red paper lanterns, art galleries, and open air markets (complete with recently decapitated fish) were just a few of the unique elements of Chinese culture that I saw thriving in Chinatown.
Furthermore, I discovered that simplicity is an extremely critical component of Chinese culture. Chinatown is full of simple, yet essential items that make life complete. Authentic food can be detected throughout the alleys. Vibrant colors graced the back alley ways. Chinese schools have been established to educate the Chinese youth in their culture, language, and history, in addition to standard academic education. I even saw a Chinese pharmacy – complete with herbal remedies! Many of the residents in Chinatown do not believe in traditional modern medicine to this day. The locals visited the markets daily to ensure that their food was always fresh. I also had the pleasure of visiting of a Chinese temple- The Kong Chow Temple. In order to respect Chinese customs, photography was not allowed. Chinatown is also full of families; young and old may be spotted roaming the streets. I located a senior services center, exhibiting the appreciation that Chinatown residents had for their elders. I was surrounded by signs, bursting with yellows and reds, which were written in Chinese. Correspondingly, the architecture exhibits traditional features of buildings in China. Details include gold accents on most of the structures. It is apparent that the Chinese immigrants did not allow their land to be “Americanized.” I was amazed at the number of similarities between the Chinese culture and my own life in the Midwest.
Astonished by the similarities, I soon realized that my life in Springfield, Illinois relates to the lives of those Chinese- Americans in Chinatown, San Francisco, California. The elders are respected and the sick are cared for. Although the daily routine may be slightly different, we still find joy in life with the same things: family, school, religion, art, and food. Even though we are 2,040 miles apart, the same values of family, religion, and respect for others are still cherished. Chinatown taught me an extremely valuable lesson in my life: do not change the way you live because of pressure from outside forces. The Chinese-Americans living in San Francisco will always have a special place in my heart.
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