The Oldest Rural Chinatown

Have you ever been to Locke, CA? Years ago, when I lived in the East Bay Area, my husband and I would drive up to the Sacramento Delta on weekends and go fishing. There we discovered that several tiny towns built near the levees were home to Chinese communities. The oldest such town is Locke, the oldest rural Chinatown in the U.S. Surprisingly, this town retains most of its old buildings; walking through its streets, one feels transported back in time to the 1920s or 30s. Back then, it was a quiet stop near the flowing Sacramento River, and a pleasant place to unwind after the hustle and bustle of living in Berkeley. Walking around, I saw a few Chinese elders still tending vegetable gardens in front of wooden, clapboard houses. There was a tiny art gallery, a bar, a pool hall, and thrift shop. In “Traveling Northern California: Locke, America’s Last Rural Chinatown,” Antone Pierucci writes:

“When it was created in 1915, most of the residents of Locke were Chinese farmworkers and merchants who had been burned out of nearby Walnut Grove following a fire that destroyed much of that town.

Starting in the 1970s, the new generation of the Chinese residents began to move away from the small farming town and those who remained passed away, leaving a bare remnant of the once flourishing community. Today, fewer than 10 Chinese residents harken back to this town’s oriental origins.

The Sacramento County Historical Society placed Locke on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, starting a decades-long interest in the historical importance of the small town…” (7 May 2017).

On May 20th, Locke will hold its annual Asian Pacific Festival. Stop by for a visit!

—Jean Vengua

Photo: Locke Foundation



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