The Chinese presence in Carpinteria from a historical perspective is slight. There are so few recorded memories of Chinese residents as to make them seem almost invisible and inconsequential to Carpinteria’s development. But they were here and they contributed to daily life in the Valley. Our historians of Carpinteria’s early years, Georgia Stockton, Jayne Cravens Caldwell and Arthur Miller Clark, all mention Chinese residents. A Chinatown is placed at the corner of Dorrance Way and Linden Avenue where apartment buildings now reside, and another Chinatown is cited somewhere west of Linden Avenue on Coast Highway. According to Caldwell, the Chinese in Carpinteria tended to cluster together in their living arrangements (“Carpinteria As It Was,” 1979).
“Clusters” of Chinese men lived and worked on the Russel Heath Estate. Clusters worked on the John Pyster Ranch. And, clusters lived and did a variety of jobs at Curtis Cates’ Santa Barbara School (now Cate School). The picture that evolves is that the Chinese kept close to each other and consisted mostly of men. The early history of the Chinese in the U. S. supports this notion of men coming to American shores to make their fortunes and return to their homelands, thus women—outside of those working in laundries and bordellos—are largely removed in the telling of their initial immigrant experience in the 19th century.
The best remembered Chinese man in early Carpinteria history was Poi, who worked at the Heath Ranch for several decades. He was one of several Chinese residents who were quartered there and worked in gardening, cleaning and cooking. The only photos of Chinese residents at the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History are those taken at the Heath Ranch. Poi was reported on by Albertina Cadwell Rodriguez who wrote the “Memories of Tina” column for the Carpinteria Herald in the 1960s and ‘70s. She knew him as a young girl. Poi baked cookies for her and other children of the Valley. Carpinteria lore tells that Poi eventually returned to China at an advanced age, and fondly reminisced about his days in Carpinteria until his dying day. Perhaps, he corresponded with Carpinterians when he returned to China?
The Chinese had arrived in California in large numbers during the Gold Rush. According to the Library of Congress, 40,400 of them arrived on Pacific shores prospecting for gold. They were unwelcome in the gold fields, and shifted to railroad gang employment by the 1860s. Caldwell writes that the Chinese arrived in Carpinteria circa 1876 looking for employment. This would square with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. They had signed on with the Central Pacific Railroad, many on five-year contracts, to build the western portion of the railroad that met up with a predominantly Irish railroad gang from the East Coast at Promontory, Utah, where the Golden Spike signifying the completion of the transcontinental railroad was driven into the ground. By 1876, they were returning to California, their starting point. In the same year that Caldwell cites Chinese arriving in Carpinteria, many of them were also going into the Yosemite Valley carving out walls, roads, and trails still used to this day.
The Chinese were hard-working and heroic. While in California, Mark Twain wrote that the Chinese were “as industrious as the day is long.” He added that “A disorderly Chinaman is rare, and a lazy one does not exist.” Their exploits climbing up steep hills as they carved their way through the mountains laying railroad track for the intercontinental railroad, and in the Yosemite, are legendary. Many gave up their lives in the taming of the West. In Carpinteria, local anecdotes about their nimbleness laying track on the Rincon and Ortega Hill are remembered. Despite this, they were villified in California and, at times, treated abominably. They were accused of stealing jobs and prospects of wealth from Americans. During their introduction to California during the Gold Rush, for example, most of the murders attributed to Joaquin Murrieta and his riders were of the Chinese in their mining camps. Both the Americans and the Californios resented their presence.
“The Chinese must go!” was a common slogan of politicians, and by 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted into law. It was renewed in 1892 and 1902. By the 1920s, there were few Chinese left in the U. S., and Carpinteria apparently played its part. When C. D. Hubbard started his citrus company in 1912, the Carpinteria Valley News happily reported that no “Celestials”—Chinese—would be in his employ. Little did the newspaper know that a decade later many in the community wouldn’t be happy with Hubbard’s use of Mexican labor in his packinghouse, either!
Today in the U. S., the Chinese presence and contribution to the country is stronger than ever. Chinese make up the largest segment of the Asian population in the United States.