Bay Area

Stanford Showcases 'Forgotten' History of San Jose's Chinatown

Stanford University is combining art with archeology to evoke a nearly forgotten period in San Jose's history.  
Arson destroyed the city's Market Street Chinatown in 1887.  An exhibit of fragments from San Jose's Chinatown is giving visitors a look at the lives of a community that's been buried for nearly a century.

Stanford Associate Professor of Anthropology Barbara Voss says not a lot is known about the history of the community.  Because it was destroyed by fire, in an environment of anti-Chinese hostility, very few written records remain.

Voss says that, "what the artifacts provide is a glimpse into the everyday lives of the people who lived there.  What they had for dinner, the dishes they used in their home, the clothes they wore, the buttons on their suit coats.  It provides this little tangible link."

From there, Voss says, researchers can begin to piece together a larger picture of the community's history.

In her installation, City Beneath the City, artist Rene Yung has arranged a small collection from the more than 400 boxes of artifacts unearthed during downtown San Jose construction in the 1980s.  Yung uses the objects to tell the story of the largest Chinese community in the nation outside of San Francisco.  

"These are the day to day rice bowls," Yung says, "and there were so many fragments of this. And rather than showing the beautiful perfect pieces, what I’m interested in is the broken ones that tell this history. This was an act of destruction of people’s lives."

City Beneath the City is at the Stanford Archeology Center through April 30th. 

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