As part of our commemoration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we want to celebrate the contributions of the AAPI community in the San Diego region.  Although many Asians arrived in California in the 1850s and 1860s, most didn’t arrive in San Diego until the 1880s.  By that time, Old Town was already in a period of transition.  Many of the original occupants had moved away, and the town had suffered droughts, floods, a smallpox epidemic, and a terrible fire that burned half the town.  With the development of Alonzo Horton’s “New Town” (now known as downtown San Diego), Old Town was no longer the hub of the region, as New Town attracted booming new businesses and immigrants.  Thus, we are offering a broader focus of Asian American and Pacific Islander in the San Diego region, rather than just in Old Town.  While this list of resources is in no way comprehensive, it is a great place to get started.

Regional Stories of San Diego County and Beyond

Historic Places with Elsa Sevilla: California's History, Asian Americans, PBS
In this 25-minute episode, the viewer will “follow the migration of Asian Americans to the San Diego region, and the impact they had in forming the city. Join us for detailed accounts on how San Diego's Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino immigrants moved to the region.”

In Search of the Golden Mountain: A History of the Chinese in San Diego by Murray K. Lee (2011)
In this book, Lee covers the history of the Chinese in San Diego for a span of 150 years. It includes topics such as the motivation for Chinese immigration, their labor contributions and the decline of their businesses. It gives readers a detailed walk through of the lives and rise of the Chinese communities in San Diego.

“Rebuilding the California Southern Railroad: The Personal Account of a Chinese Labor Contractor, 1884,” by Thomas L. Scharf, San Diego Historical Society Quarterly
In 1883, the railroad connecting between San Diego and San Bernardino was nearly complete and then a series of storms hit, destroying many portions of the track. “In 1884, Ah Quin recorded his own account of the rebuilding of the California Southern in a personal diary, one of seven diaries that he kept during his lifetime which have been preserved. Fortunately, he chose to write them in English, and they are easy to read despite his unpolished syntax and grammar. The little books are a singular resource for San Diego history and for the history of the Chinese in California, offering a unique opportunity to observe events from the perspective of a Chinese immigrant. So far as this writer can determine, no other personal accounts of such depth were produced by nineteenth century sojourners.” Check out the article to see Ah Quin’s diary entries and learn more about Quin’s contributions to transportation in San Diego County.

Russell Low - Railroad Worker Descendant by Chinese Historical Society of America
In this short 5-minute video clip, Russell Low of La Jolla talks about his great grandfather Hung Lai Woh who worked on the Central Pacific Railroad.

“The Hawaiian Connection,” by Alex Bevil (Save Our Heritage Organisation, 2011).
Learn more from this short article about the Native Hawaiian population in 1830s San Diego.

Other historic sites, museums, and cultural organizations to explore:
San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
USC Pacific Asia Museum
Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center
Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
Asian & Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation
National Park Service Celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month


Youth Educational Materials

SPICE | America’s Transcontinental Railroad | High School Lesson Plans
“SPICE [Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education] has created four lessons for high school audiences that draw upon research and findings from the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project. Teachers may deliver all four modules... or may deliver any one lesson as a stand-alone unit.” Lesson topics include “Challenges to Chinese Immigration and Assimilation, Human/Environment Interaction,” and more. Be sure to scroll down to view the downloadable lesson plans.