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WASHINGTON STREET EXHIBIT

The exhibit is now closed, but you can read local articles here. Click here to view (PDF).

Washington Street: The Heart and Soul of Stockton Chinatown

An Exhibit Displayed at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum

January 29, 2017—August 13, 2017

It was June 8, 2016. Three figures huddled around the table in the attractive, cozy library of the San Joaquin County Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park in Lodi. Julie Blood, Collections and Exhibit Manager at the museum and Janwyn Loy Funamura, museum trustee and docent, had an idea for an exhibit they felt was long overdue. It had been 30 years, a full generation, since the museum had featured an exhibit about Stockton’s Chinatown. To help bridge the gap, Janwyn invited someone who had been there, retired Superior Court Judge Frank Kim, to join the brainstorming session.

Julie had professional expertise in creating exhibits. Janwyn had a sketchy knowledge of Chinatown. Although she had been born there, she moved with her family to what was then North Stockton at five years of age, and her parents, who did grow up in Chinatown, were long deceased. Some of her parents’ contemporaries and their offspring were still living however, and they would prove to be valuable resources for the exhibit. Judge Kim had come to Stockton in 1960; with a keen interest in the past and great recall of his 56 years in town, he was very helpful in connecting the dots.

Where to begin? The previous exhibit had focused on the arrival of the Chinese sojourners during California’s Gold Rush days and the late 19th century. The planners wanted to capitalize on resources they knew existed in the community—stories and artifacts from those who lived their lives in Chinatown and from their children who grew up in Chinatown. They wanted stories of ancestral origins in China and their family life and business life in Stockton.

In a unique collaboration between the museum and the Chinese community, four “Show and Tell” sessions were held at the museum. Community members brought their stories and their artifacts; museum staff and volunteers catalogued and photographed items. Local news reporters took an interest in the project and helped put out the call for participants. Institutions such as the Haggin Museum, Bank of Stockton and the University of the Pacific were generous in sharing archival photographs.

As a result, Opening Day with a ribbon-cutting ceremony took place on schedule on January 29, 2017, the day after Chinese New Year. Over 400 attendees, participants and volunteers enjoyed a bright, warm January day at the museum. Prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, revelers enjoyed a traditional lion dance and parade, cultural demonstrations and activities, a local authors’ book-signing, and a Cantonese luncheon and tea and home-baked cookies.

More than 100 photographs plus items long-hidden in private family homes were enjoyed that day and over the ensuing 7 ½ months. Nine panels guided visitors in an educational journey from the Stockton residents’ roots in Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province, China, to the early Stockton settlements. The title of the exhibit, Washington Street: The Heart and Soul of Stockton Chinatown, reflected the highlights of the exhibit, the organizations and businesses of Stockton Chinatown in its heyday from the 1920s to the 1960s. Chronicled also, was the demise of Chinatown as a result of redevelopment in the 1960s and the razing of the area for the Crosstown Freeway. Finally, the vestiges of Chinatown in Central and South Stockton are pointed out, and the exhibit ends on a note of optimism, that the Chinese culture is still alive and well among the city’s 6,600 residents of Chinese descent.

The exhibit ended on August 13, 2017, but it will not be forgotten. It is the dream of the Chinese Benevolent Association to create a museum space at the Confucius Church of Stockton. There, historical items from the past century will be displayed, and alongside them, the panels and photographs of Washington Street: The Heart and Soul of Stockton Chinatown.