Big Jim: Asians in Tucson

2013-09-17T00:00:00Z 2014-09-12T09:22:11Z Big Jim: Asians in TucsonJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Tucson has been home to folks from Asia since the late 19th century. Chinese men came as workers on the railroad, and stayed to become successful truck farmers along the Santa Cruz. The farming led inevitably to creating outlets for the produce, and the neighborhood Chinese grocery stores which dotted the older areas of Tucson.

In the years after World War II, people from many parts of Asia — south, central, and east — began arriving in our desert, many as refugees from strife-torn parts of the world.

One way to track this influx is through ethnic restaurants specializing in Asian food. When I came to Tucson in the 1950s, I knew of one Chinese restaurant — Jerry’s Ming House. (I’m sure there were more; I just wasn’t aware of them.) Now Tucson boasts restaurants specializing in Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian foods! And not just one each, but several in each category. There are large Oriental markets, and smaller stores specializing in foods from India. All this implies a sizable population from those places.

Tucson also has a very active Chinese Cultural Center (1288 W. River Road). It is holding the Autumn Moon Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21, with traditional foods (including moon cakes), a paper lantern competition, and performances. For further information and reservations ($10 for members; $15 for general public) call 292-6900.

And Tucson Meet Yourself will feature a large exhibit from the Chinese Cultural Center on the history of Chinese in Tucson — look for the big tent by the Library — and a session of stories about Chinese immigration, Chinese ranching, and Chinese groceries. The story telling will take place in TMY’s new office space on the corner of Stone and Pennington.

In fact, Tucson Meet Yourself provides a great occasion to experience (and taste!) the Asian contributions to our cultural mix. Most of the foods I mentioned above will be available with a few more thrown in. There will be demonstrations of Lao weaving, Indian henna painting, and Chinese calligraphy. (Welcome back, Mr. Lim!) There will be music and dance from several Asian traditions. I can’t go into detail because the program isn’t yet set, but I’m sure there will be several varieties of martial arts, as well as a Lion Dance.

And there will be lots more that I don’t yet know about!

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About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at tucson.com/wildcatgear.

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail bigjimgriffith@gmail.com