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California Cultures

Everyday Life and Cultural Traditions,1860s-1980s

Questions to Consider

How do the people in these images express their cultural traditions in their daily lives?

What changes do you see reflected in these images over roughly a century?

About the Images

The images in this group offer a glimpse into the daily lives of Asian Americans in California from the 1860s to the 1980s. They portray business owners and laborers,families and cultural celebrations. The images in this topic reflect more than a century of Asian life in California.


Asians began migrating to California during the Gold Rush era. But a number of factors — including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion act, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the "alien ineligible for citizenship" status imposed on Asian immigrants into the 1950s and 1960s — limited their numbers. Nonetheless, as these images make clear, Asian Californians have been part of everyday life in California since the mid-19th century.

Like other immigrant cultures, Asians in California have struggled with issues of ethnic identity and assimilation. In the 19th century, some immigrants still wore traditional dress (like some of the men in Hanford’s Sun Chung Kee Store, the bamboo flute player posing on the street in Yuba County, and the men and boys in the family on the street in San Francisco’s Chinatown). As these images show, they own businesses, work for other people, attend school, and commemorate family events and important life passages.

As Asian immigrants have assimilated into the larger American culture, their photographs — such as the Murakami and Hirahara family portraits, the man standing in front of his car in the 1940s, and the Chan Brothers truck stuck in a flood in 1955 — reflect this “Americanization.”

In the process, however, Asian Californians have also managed to keep a rich variety of cultural traditions alive, in public and private celebrations. For example, some later images document weddings and birthdays and holiday celebrations. These images also make clear the continuation of traditional religious celebrations (such as the Thai monks celebrating at the Wat Thai temple in North Hollywood, and the people eating at the Lao Baci ceremony), and the persistence of traditional community celebrations (evidenced by the many photos of dragon parades over the course of more than 100 years). Asian participation in contemporary arts is seen in the image of the Asian American Theatre Company’s performance of David Henry Hwang’s “F.O.B."

California Content Standards

English-Language Arts

Grade Four:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write information reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Make informational presentations.

Grade Eight:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write research reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.3 Deliver research presentations.

Grade Eleven

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.4 Write historical investigation reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Deliver oral reports on historical investigations.
2.4 Deliver multimedia presentations.

History-Social Science

Grade Four:

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s. (4.4.2, 4.4.3, 4.4.4)

Grade Eight:

8.12 Students analyze the transformation of the American economy and the changing social and political conditions in the United States in response to the Industrial Revolution. (8.12.5, 8.12.7)

Grade Eleven

11.11 Students analyze the major social problems and domestic policy issues in comtemporary American society. (11.11.1)

Visual Arts

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context

Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of the Visual Arts

Students analyze the role and development of the visual arts in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting human diversity as it relates to the visual arts and artists.

392. View among the Chinese on Sacramento Street, San Francisco. :386.7 Sue Chung Kee Store in Hanford's China Alley
Chinese Bamboo Flute Player Pupils of M.E. [Methodist Episcopal] Mission Home. [Clipped from unidentified print source.] :40 [Children with adults, Chinatown.] :30
Orchard Workers with Tussock Moth Cocoons T. Murakami Family, Group Portrait. [graphic] Hirahara Family Portrait [graphic]
no. 9, page 9: The Orient Entertaining the Occident: On the occasion of their annual banquet, the Yinn Yee Kong Sow Society invited the Supervisors of San Francisco and their lady friends to a banquet in the Hong Fer Low restaurant [Chinese New Year: dragon dance stops at Citizens Federal Savings] New Year's Day celebration, [graphic]
[dragon parade] Funeral procession for Sun Yat-sen in Chinatown, Los Angeles (Calif.) Asian-American family.
Bok Kai Parade 1930 "Buddhist Ceremonies at Exposition -- Photo shows Japanese children dressed in colorful robes and garb of the Orient as they paraded in Buddhist ceremonies at Treasure Island yesterday. Hundreds took part in the age-old traditional fete."--caption on photograph JARDA-1-45 Dragon parade in Chinatown, Los Angeles (Calif.)
Yoshio Harry Tsuruda leaning against car in Los Angeles. Moon festival lantern parade in Chinatown, Los Angeles (Calif.) Chan Bros. Market truck in flood of 1955.
Japanese American children at temple dedication Nisei Festival Week Queen rides in parade through Little Tokyo, Los Angeles (Calif.) Japanese American man displays book of Ansel Adams' Manzanar photographs
Mien woman feeding a baby Wat Thai Temple in North Hollywood, Los Angeles (Calif.) Lao Baci ceremony
Gum Lung, the golden dragon of Chinatown is the star of San Francisco's Chinese New Year festival / Lee Family Celebrates Great-Grandmothers 100th Birthday [graphic] David Henry Hwang's F.O.B. performed by The Asian American Theatre Company /

Note about picture captions

The original captions on some of the historical photographs may include racial terms that were commonplace at the time, but considered to be derogatory today.

Analysis Tools

6C's of Primary Source Analysis (PDF) (Source: UCI History Project)
Photographs (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)
Posters/Visuals (PDF) (Source: Bringing History Home)
Written Documents (PDF) (Source: NARA)
Primary Source Activity (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)