An Imperial-Sized Portrait of Imperial County
By Maureen Cavanaugh, Pat Finn
August 12, 2009
Interview with William Vollmann, author of "Imperial," who will speak and sign books at Warwick's in La Jolla on Wednesday, August 12, 2009, at 7:30 p.m.
(After they built the railroads, Chinese immigrants were forced out of California. Some of them crossed into Mexicali, where they flourished in the restaurant and laundry businesses. But they were not all that welcome in Mexico, either. As a result, there exists an underground world in Mexicali where Chinese could move about safe from deportation.)
Here's another take on the story:
Sweet And Sour Times On The Border
by Joe Cummings
Jan. 1, 2006
...Many of the Chinese labourers who survived the building of the irrigation system stayed on after its completion, congregating in an area of Mexicali today known as Chinesca ('Chinatown'). Especially during the U.S. Prohibition years, when Americans flocked to Mexican border towns to partake of the alcoholic beverages outlawed at home, Chinese labourers and farmers moved into the city and spent their hard-earned savings to open bars, restaurants, and hotels. Chinesca eventually housed virtually all of the city's casinos and bars, and an underground tunnel system connected bordellos and opium dens with Mexicali's counterpart city on the U.S. side, Calexico. Bootleggers also used this route to supply the U.S. with booze purchased in Mexico. Many, but by no means all, of the Prohibition-era businesses were operated by chinos.
By 1920 Mexicali's chinos outnumbered the mexicanos 10,000 to 700. A group of 5,000 single Chinese males started the Asociación China, a Mexicali social organization at least partly devoted to the procurement of Chinese wives from overseas. The association remains active today.
In 1927 a series of Tong wars in northern Mexico erupted over control of gambling and prostitution rings. Mexican alarm over the Chinese participation in organized crime led to the government-encouraged Movimiento Anti-Chino in the late 1920s, a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment that swept the country and led to the torture and murder of hundreds of Chinese in northern Mexico--a tragic echo of what happened on a larger scale in California in the 1880s. To Mexico's credit, the government never enacted an equivalent to the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act, which for a time prevented all persons of Chinese heritage from holding U.S. citizenship.
Mexicali quickly became a refuge for Chinese fleeing the violence on both sides of the border, since in that Chinese-dominated city the clans were strong enough to protect their own...