Keep Oakland Beautiful Point Of Interest: Oakland Chinatown.

Keep Oakland Beautiful Points of Interest remind us of how interesting and beautiful Oakland is and why we should care about protecting it. Please click on the photographs to enlarge and clarify them.


One of the oldest Chinatowns in North America, the history of Oakland Chinatown begins in the 1850s, right around the time that the Town of Oakland was incorporated. Chinese immigrants arrived on Pacific-crossing ships and settled in shrimp camps on the Oakland estuary, near what was then called Oakland Point in West Oakland, where they shrimped in the waters of San Francisco Bay (Just writing this makes me recall Jack London’s terrific collection of short stories, Tales of the Fish Patrol, about the fishing communities that surrounded San Francisco Bay.).

Chinese immigration expanded over the next decade as more men arrived to help build the western end of America’s first Transcontinental Railroad. Local Chinese laborers also built the dam at Lake Temescal around this time, as a means of increasing drinking water in the East Bay.

Life for the Chinese was hard and they had to endure discrimination and prejudice that limited where they could live and the kinds of work they could get. As a result, they tended to accept jobs as houseboys, cooks, laundry workers, gardeners, and the like.

In the late 19th century, discriminatory laws were passed that extremely limited further Chinese immigration. Because of this, the Chinese population in Oakland dwindled to around 1,000 by the turn of the century. However, the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco, caused a significant census spike as displaced San Francisco Chinatown residents took refuge in Oakland Chinatown. While some of these refugees later returned to San Francisco, many remained in Oakland.

Other Asian immigrants moved into Oakland Chinatown over time, beginning with the Japanese in the late 1800s. This was followed in the first half of the 20th century by an influx of Korean immigrants and, subsequently, Filipino immigrants. During the period of the Vietnam War and after, Oakland Chinatown became home to immigrants from Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and other parts of Southeast Asia.


While Oakland Chinatown has seen its share of socio-economic ups and downs, today it is a vibrant and diverse Asian-American community. Roughly bounded by 12th Street on the north, Oak Street on the east, Interstate 880 on the south, and Broadway on the west, Oakland Chinatown is a bustling community of grocery shops, restaurants, bakeries, and other small businesses. Its relative lack of souvenir shops and tourists gives Oakland Chinatown a more authentic feel than its more commercial counterpart across the bay.


Despite its more ‘lived-in’ vibe, you can walk the crowded streets of Oakland Chinatown and admire exotic vegetables for sale on the sidewalk and taste mouth-watering delicacies you never dreamed of. Oakland Chinatown is full of life and is one of my favorite localities.


Keeping Oakland Beautiful is everybody’s business.

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