Gilroy Today 2010 06 Summer - Page 6

H I S T O R I C A L L Y S P E A K I N G The history of the Chinese in Gilroy is as diverse as the Chinese culture. Parts of their history should make us a little uncomfortable; other parts are typical American melting pot assimilations — many are interesting pieces of Gilroy’s history that might surprise you. Gilroy’s Chinese heritage Chinese artifacts found in the Gilroy Historical Museum The Chinese first came to Gilroy in the mid to late 1800’s as a result of both natural and manmade disasters in China. Too many people, too much poverty, and not enough work led to a major exodus to California during the gold rush. Chinese from the Middle Kingdom, more specifically the Kwangtung Province went to “Gum Shan” — the Gold Mountains of California. In 1852 there were an estimated 25,000 Chinese in California. Many had hopes of finding gold fortunes but they soon learned that they were not welcomed visitors and faced phenomenal discrimination. By 1852 the Foreign Miners Tax, discrimination, violence and blatant anti-Chinese sentiments made their gold mining dreams impossible. Many Chinese turned to support functions such as laborers, cooks, laundry and grocery owners. By 1870 the Chinese were the largest ethnic minority in California’s mining areas. Many of the displaced miners eventually went to work on the Central Pacific Railroads. With the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the Chinese dispersed throughout California to work the fields and plantations. About this time James D. Culp came to Gilroy, patented a process for curing tobacco, and founded the Consolidated Tobacco Company. In 1873 Culp built a three-story brick cigar factory across from the train depot on Monterey Street. Gilroy was a major tobacco-growing region! At one point the Consolidated Tobacco Company employed 900 Chinese and reportedly rolled one million cigars, called cheroots, a month! Gilroy was the west coast “tobacco capital.” In 1875 the population of Gilroy was estimated at 3,400 with twenty-six percent Chinese! While most European immigrants came to the New World (California) to stay, most Chinese planned to make some money and return to China. They were just passing through. They kept their language, way of life and dress. These behaviors fostered further discrimination and isolation. Ethnic Chinatowns sprang up throughout California. Gilroy had its own bordered by Monterey and Eigleberry between Seventh and Ninth. In 1879 the California Constitution was revised and Chinese labor was outlawed in state-licensed corporations. That was the end of the Consolidated Tobacco Company in Gilroy. James D. Culp moved to a smaller clandestine operation near San Felipe, just north of Hollister, and with a few loyal Chinese he continued making cigars into the 1920’s. 6 G I L R O Y T O D A Y S P R I N G 2 0 1 0