A Neighborhood like No Other

Located in the heart of San Francisco, Chinatown serves as an important home for generations of Chinese immigrants, as well as charming tourists and locals with its distinctive features.

Playing+the+traditional+Chinese+instrument%2C+the+erhu%2C+the+street+performer+entertains+visitors+of+Chinatown+with+soft%2C+melodic+tunes.
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A Neighborhood like No Other

Playing the traditional Chinese instrument, the erhu, the street performer entertains visitors of Chinatown with soft, melodic tunes.

Playing the traditional Chinese instrument, the erhu, the street performer entertains visitors of Chinatown with soft, melodic tunes.

Playing the traditional Chinese instrument, the erhu, the street performer entertains visitors of Chinatown with soft, melodic tunes.

Playing the traditional Chinese instrument, the erhu, the street performer entertains visitors of Chinatown with soft, melodic tunes.

Jack Pressgrove

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Turning onto Grant Avenue and walking through the impressive Dragon’s Gate entrance to San Francisco’s Chinatown is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ description of Lucy entering Narnia for the first time: slightly jarring, but delightful. Just as Lucy trades the professor’s country home for Narnia, visitors of San Francisco exchange overhanging skyscrapers for the bustling streets of Chinatown.

Established in 1848, Chinatown remains a significant part of San Francisco’s culture today, attracting millions of tourists annually and constituting a significant portion of downtown. According to the official Chinatown website, Chinese immigrants represent approximately 21% of the San Francisco population, and because many of them live within the community, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest in the world outside of Asia.

In these streets lined with vendors and bakeries, tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants make their home and workplace. Spanning generations, these immigrants retain their cultural roots to China through continuing to speak their native language, cook authentic foods and create traditional artwork. 

Melissa Chen, Operations Manager at the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, grew up in New York City’s Chinatown, where she experienced the benefits of living in these unique neighborhoods. 

“[Chinatown] happens to feel like home and family [for me]. If you are part of the community, it has a lot of services to help [you],”  Chen said. 

In immigrating to the United States, immigrants oftentimes are forced to relinquish ties to their native culture and family in favor of assimilation. Chinese immigrants living in Chinatown, however, can encounter less of a culture shock when finding many characteristics of their homeland in their new home.

“[Chinatown] is a protective enclave. It’s definitely insulated in the sense that everyone can work within Chinatown, live in Chinatown [and] eat in Chinatown,” Chen said.

As well as being a sanctuary for many Chinese immigrants, Chinatown serves as a popular destination for tourists and San Franciscans alike. From trying Chinese egg tarts to watching a street musician play the erhu, visitors are treated to a special showcase of Chinese customs. 

Tourist Greg Walter of El Paso, Texas, visited the distinct neighborhood because he enjoys observing the rich culture that ethnic minorities bring to American cities.

“[My favorite part of Chinatown is] just the uniqueness and different look to it. The cuisine [is] stuff that I usually don’t see in Texas,” Walter said. 

On the other hand, many San Franciscans, like Ashley Gimenez, appreciate Chinatown for a more particular, pressing reason that has afflicted the rest of the Bay Area in recent years. 

“It hasn’t been gentrified yet, and I hope it stays that way,” Gimenez said. 

As San Francisco grows through technology and innovation, it also has become the most expensive city to live in the United States, according to Business Insider. Through gentrification, the rising prices have resulted in displacing many native residents and altering many neighborhoods.

In spite of this, Chinese immigrants manage to keep Chinatown as their own, like their ancestors before them. With markets and groceries where the vegetables and meats are labeled solely in Mandarin or Cantonese, Chinatown endures as a protective and comfortable medium for immigrants to resettle in.

For many San Franciscans, the beauty of Chinatown lies in its stagnancy. Despite the drastic changes occurring outside the ethnic community, Chinatown remains culturally significant because of its authenticity as a home and an asylum for numerous generations of Chinese immigrants.

About the Writer
Photo of Jack Pressgrove
Jack Pressgrove, Reporter

Jack is a rising senior from Atlanta, Georgia. He will hold the position of Senior Writer at his school's publication next year. He has a twin brother...

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A Neighborhood like No Other