CHSA is pleased to co-sponsor “On Common Ground,” a new exhibition curated by Connie Young Yu and Leslie Masunaga. The On Common Ground exhibit focuses on the story of Heinlenville, San Jose’s last Chinatown; it brings to light the historical context of the formation of Heinlenville as well as the subsequent interplay between the Chinese and Japanese communities.
Heinlenville was born in 1888 the midst of rampant anti-Chinese sentiment and racist terrorism. Fearing the violence and property destruction that hit other Chinatowns, John Heinlen (the businessman founder of Heinlenville) built a high fence topped with barbed wire around the town to protect the residents and businesses. “No ruffians on horseback were liable to ride down the main street and drag Chinese by the queues as they once had in the past,” Yu wrote in her seminal book, Chinatown, San Jose, USA.
Several years after the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese laborers came to San Jose and settled near the area of Heinlenville. “The newcomers (the Japanese) inherited the phobia against Yellow Peril, and heated political debate arose again throughout the Pacific Coast over how to exclude a new influx of Asians,” Yu said.
Although John Heinlen created a sanctuary for Chinese residents and their businesses during a time of great xenophobic turmoil, not much is documented about John Heinlen’s motivations in helping the Chinese. In an effort to unveil his motivations, Yu wrote in the preface to her book, “The person that changed the destiny of the early Chinese community in San Jose left no other legacy than the memory of a Chinatown, once upon a time, called Heinlenville. Considering its colorful history and the good people who lived in it and loved it well, perhaps that alone shall suffice.”
The exhibit features artifacts from a 2008 Sonoma State University archaeological excavation of the Heinlenville site. Included in the collection are personal mementos of the guest curators, including a check made out by Masunaga’s grandfather to the Tuck Wo store, and objects from Yu’s family. There is also a video associated with the exhibit that incorporates photos and interviews.
For more information, visit the JAMsj website >