Photographs taken by Arnold Genthe around the turn of the century in San Francisco’s Chinatown offer a rare peek into what life was like for Chinese and Asian immigrants at the time. Traditional Chinese foods, costumes, toys, and economic class were transferred to a American life and it was a truly fascinating thing for many Americans to see. However, there were groups of Americans who were often fearful of outsiders, and in many communities across the U.S. after The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Asian immigrants were harassed or bullied out of town, and their buildings burned by local mobs.
Chinatowns like San Francisco’s were integral to many larger cities, offering not only a refuge from the mob mentality, but a chance for Americans to get to know their neighbors in a controlled environment which soon became a fun activity for many families and tourists.
Bustling vendors in traditional costumes, lanterns hung over the sidewalks, handmade toys being sold on the streets, and men with their queue braids make for striking images – a part of American history not often seen in photographs.