Filipinx American History: A Celebration of Community, Activism, and Persistence

Fil-Ams in Chinatown: Inter-Asian Ethnic Solidarity Through the Centuries

Fil-Ams congregated in ethnic urban spaces because they were denied entry into white spaces. Chinatowns were spaces where Filipina/o/x, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and South Asian Indian immigrants could seek refuge from the racial climate of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Asian immigrants/Americans formed inter-Asian ethnic solidarity relationships in safe spaces like Chinatowns. Racial prejudice solidified by the exclusion acts and 1913 Alien land laws prevented many Asian immigrants/Americans from owning land or owing their homes. This led Filipinos especially to rent out living quarters in the Chinatown districts, as those were the only spaces openly rented to people of color. Korean community members remarked on how much Filipino laborers relied on Chinatown for their essentials. Dora Yum Kim, who worked at Lee’s Lunch (1926-1941) said that “There were an awful lot of Filipino bachelors… Even though there were differences in who we considered Asian , In those days, in Chinatown you never thought about nationality”(Kim 1999). The restaurants, community centers, and entertainment venues in Chinatown provided spaces to socialize when taking a break from work for many of the poor and working class Asian immigrants.  

“We were all Orientals to the Americans and we were all just there together”

-Dora Yum Kim, Doing what Had to be Done:The Life Narrative of Dora Yum Kim, 1999 

Elder Exclusion

Our Asian ancestors continued to fight against exclusion laws. The barriers to branching out from Chinatowns crumbled, allowing our communities to expand. With the exodus from Chinatowns the history around them and the people who survived in them started to fade. When people moved out, some saw the land as free real estate. One famous example was the International Hotel in San Francisco, oft-shortened to I-Hotel. Since the building was older the lower rates helped elderly tenants maintain a home in a rapidly growing San Francisco. Developers then decided that they wanted to demolish the building, even though it was currently in use, and sent out an eviction order in 1969. University students, local businesses and those who lived in the building protested that they couldn’t remove this low income housing from the community. Elderly Filipina/o/x and Chinese tenants were evicted from the building 1974 in spite of protest from the community. Thanks to community efforts in 2005, there was a new International Hotel built on the land to create affordable housing for seniors.

"Put up a Parking Lot"

 In San Luis Obispo’s Chinatown, many of the structures that occupied the space have been replaced with parking garages. Steve Yung, one of the restaurant owners forced to sell their place in Chinatown, explained that “Chinatown is not a Chinatown anymore” (New York Times, 2014). Archeologists had a chance to salvage any historical artifacts they could find for two months in 1987 before the Palm Street garage went up. The demolition erased the history of suffering endured within those walls by the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinx who chose to settle there. Evidence of the existence of the communities of people who labored, lived and dreamed in San Luis Obispo may not be easy to see with parking garages in place of stores and boarding houses, but that does not make their stories any less valid. Some of these people were the Manongs who labored in the fields, or served our country in the foreign wars fought by the United States with the promise of citizenship. What little we know of San Luis Obispo’s Asian immigrant community should spur us to protect its history before it is covered up further.

Keep History Alive

In Salinas, historians are battling to preserve oral histories and protect cultural landmarks before we lose them. Communities like Salinas are also facing struggles caused by urban renewal projects, leading to forced evictions. Wellington Lee, a former resident, shared that "They asked people to move. We had to have someone tear our home down because we couldn’t keep up with the repairs” (KQED, 2017). With these areas cleared of residents, and some lots remaining empty and with no one to care for the space, Salinas’ Chinatown continues to fall into further disrepair. Despite this challenge the larger Asian American community comes together in Salinas to preserve their community’s memories, heritage, and beloved Chinatown. There is an event called the All Asian Festival celebrating Chinese, Filipina/o/x, and Japanese holidays and communities in one event. This annual Chinatown celebration promotes the traditional local and cultural foods and dances while also highlighting their goal to maintain and preserve the Chinatown buildings that remain. These community efforts and cross-Asian-ethnic relationships continue to be a testament to the community coalitions that have stood for generations in Salinas’ Chinatown. 

International Inspiration

Another win for our community was the preservation of the Chinatown (renamed international district) in Seattle, WA. In 1971 there was a proposal to build a stadium in the area that would impact the international district with noise and discourage residents from living there. Their efforts succeeded in bringing the community and the city to work together on neighborhood renewal projects. The International Examiner wrote in 1984 that, “While other Chinatown, Japantown, and Manilatowns in other cities have faded away, the International District survives with a new energy, purpose, and authenticity”(International Examiner 1984). Through the history of inter-ethnic communities in Chinatowns and little Manilas we can see how inter-Asian ethnic solidarity has aided in community building as BIPOC groups continue to deal with racial oppression caused by urban renewal initiatives. These cross-racial efforts have helped to  preserve Chinatown heritage and histories for generations to come.


Chin, Doug, and Peter Bacho. “A History of an Urban Ethnic Community: Asian Americans and the Development of Seattle’s International District.” International Examiner, 17 Oct. 1984. 

Craig, Sarah. “Can Salinas' Chinatown Design Its Way out of Violence?” KQED, 9 May 2017, 

Kim, Dora Yum., Chin, Soo-Young. Doing what Had to be Done: The Life Narrative of Dora Yum Kim. United States: Temple University Press, 1999.

Rigley, Colin. “The Long, Storied History of San Luis Obispo's Historic Chinatown and the Artifacts Left Behind.” New Times San Luis Obispo,

New Times San Luis Obispo, 28 Sept. 2021, 

“Timeline.” The IHotel San Francisco, The International Hotel Senior Housing Inc., 

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