Asians have lived in Riverside since the 1880s.

The history of Asian Americans in Riverside, California is barely documented. This website offers an overview of that history. A community’s past can speak to the concerns of those in its present. Hopefully this site will inspire more research.

Riverside was long the center of the citrus industry in Southern California. Concentrations of Chinese and Japanese immigrants lived in Riverside by the 1880s, but had nearly vanished from the area by the 1920s due to ethnic hostility. These numbers were further reduced by the Japanese American internment in 1942-45. The 2000 census found that the Asian/Asian American community of Riverside constitutes only 5.6% of the city’s total population. This site:

  • reconstructs the history of now-diminished Asian American communities
  • documents the contemporary presence of Asian Americans in Riverside, including Koreans and South and Southeast Asian immigrants who arrived after the change in U.S. immigration laws in 1965 and the end of the Vietnam War in 1975
  • addresses the challenges that Asian Americans continue to face

In 2005, the city of Riverside is a large, sprawling metropolis of almost 300,000 people. With great growth predicted for the Inland Empire over the next ten years, we feel it essential for

  • Asian Americans in Riverside to chart their long-time presence in this area
  • non-Asian American Riversiders to understand the social factors leading to inter-ethnic cooperation or to isolation
  • newcomers to Riverside—e.g., refugees from the Vietnam War and the indigenous peoples of Central America now appearing in our area to work in agriculture—to see that their arrival is but the latest in many waves of immigration into Riverside that have invigorated the region

Our base in oral history means that we relied on the participation of community members in bringing this project to fruition. This web site thus reflects the points of view of community members who shared their histories. We hope that you may be inspired to interview your own family members or neighbors for our project. If you are an Asian or an Asian American resident of the greater Riverside area and would like to be interviewed, please contact us.

‘Asians’ vs. ‘Asian Americans’

What’s the difference? First of all, the term ‘Oriental’ is rarely used anymore—it has been replaced with the term ‘Asian’, which designates anyone from East, South, Southeast, or Central Asia—that is, the countries and cultures of China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tuva, Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc.

Asian Americans are Americans of Asian descent. The term ‘Asian American’ was coined in the 1960s along with the creation of Ethnic Studies as a field and the emergence of the Asian American movement. The term indicates a certain political and historical sensibility. Asian Americans come from many different Asian ethnic backgrounds, of course, but the term suggests that these groups share certain things, including both cultural patterns and particular histories in the U.S. Self-identification as ‘Asian American’ is a matter of personal choice. Not all Americans of Asian descent identify themselves as Asian American; some immigrants choose to self-identify in this way to indicate their ties to other Asians in the U.S. and Americans of Asian descent.

This site uses the term ‘Asian American’ as well as related terms like ‘Japanese American’, ‘Chinese American’, Vietnamese American’, and so forth, to describe Asians in the U.S. ‘Japanese’ is thus used to describe someone from Japan. The field of Ethnic Studies has established the following terminology that is used on this site:

First generation : the generation that emigrated from Asia to the U.S.
Second generation : the American-born children of the first-generation immigrants.
Third generation : the children of the second generation
1.5 generation : someone born in Asia who emigrated to the U.S. as a child or as a young adult. Many people from this ‘in between’ generation are bicultural and even bilingual but are also thoroughly conversant with American culture.

Sections of this website address the old Chinatown excavated in 1985 and the Chinese pavilion, a local landmark, erected in front of the Main Library in memory of Riverside’s Chinese community. Riverside’s famous Harada House on Lemon Street, the property associated with the Alien Land Law test of 1916-18, now a National Historic Landmark in one of the city’s oldest residential neighborhoods, is also featured.  The street sign for " Wong Way," named for George Wong (died 1974), the last member of the Chinatown community, suggests how a community’s members leave their mark on the landscape. A number of interviews with local Asian Americans are featured, along with reconstructions of the past drawn from newspaper accounts and photographs.

Archaeological work has provided a rich picture of Riverside’s Chinatown from the 1870s to the 1920s.  We want to add to that picture by considering all the Asian American populations (as well as the Chinese).  We want to recuperate histories of cooperation that refute the more spectacular histories of violence and hostility that periodically marked this area of southern California.  For example, Jukichi Harada’s purchase of a house in downtown Riverside in 1915 outraged a number of his Anglo neighbors but would not have been possible without the friendship and support of Frank Miller, owner and founder of the famed Mission Inn.  Those two sides to a famous court case (The State of California vs. Jukichi Harada) illustrate the dangers and the promise that continue to mark California today.

We believe this project will both support interethnic understanding and strengthen community in Riverside. Our goals are to increase community awareness and understanding of the factors that bring/brought Asian Americans to Riverside and then to understand how Riverside’s multiethnic mix has implications for local life.  If it was indeed anti-Asian movements that drove Asian Americans here from northern and central California, and if subsequent violence in the 1890s then helped to drive Asian Americans out of the area, we hope to document this and to consider its lessons for us at the beginning of the 21st century.  Most of all, we want to document the presence of Asian Americans in Riverside today as a promise for the coming years.

This site is supported by a major grant from the California Council for the Humanities. We are grateful for on-going efforts by the CCH to help Californians reflect on the past and present.

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