Heinlenville was one of six San José Chinatowns. Archaeologists from the Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University and local San José historians are working with the Redevelopment Agency, City of San José to unearth selected areas of Heinlenville and early Japantown. The test excavation took place from the 11th to 17th March 2008, and data recovery excavation was conducted from the 14th to 23rd of April 2009. Work continues now back at the ASC lab, as we process artifacts and soil samples recovered from the site.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Open House Heinlenville and Nihonmachi Archaeology — Sat. March 15th, 2008

Tour Group at one of the Archaeological Trenches
The community event, sponsored by the Anthropological Studies Center (ASC) and the Redevelopment Agency of the City of San José was on the 5th day of the rotation, and there was no telling how many people would show up, especially in weather that suddenly turned inclement. While the team was setting up that morning, there was intermittent rain (plus a bit of hail). This “open house” was more like an “open field day,” with the team out there draining the ditches of water.

In the whipping wind, Annita tacked down her “exhibits,” moving easels with photos and maps and improvising alternative set-ups. Archaeologists are unfazed by anything and ready for everything, I’ve learned. An hour before the start, as our team of guides and site interpreters gathered for a briefing by Adrian and Julia, there was already a crowd with umbrellas, gathering at the gate on Taylor Street.

History BoothThen they came in, wave after wave. Families with young children, elderly residents from the neighborhood, many an official “V.I.P.,” reporters and a boy scout troop; from the South Bay, but also Oakland, Lafayette, Mendocino, and Sacramento. People responded as if it was truly a unique, once in a lifetime event. A history area set up by Leslie was a source of orientation and information. Each group was taken on a guided tour on a route that went to each of the open trench sites. Field Director Mike Meyer had marked in color Cleveland Ave. and store sites so visitors had a sense of the imprint of Heinlenville.

Annita with tour groupTour leaders, armed with maps, explained the layout of the town and narrated the community’s unique history as well. The archaeologist, stationed at each trench site gave an authoritative but friendly presentation to each rotating group. Over and over. And answered question after question. (“Is that the Great Wall of China” asked a tiny kid of Bryan who was showing the brick foundation at 34 Cleveland.) The first trench, was at the site of the store of May Wah (head of Hop Sing Tong) where pig bones were found.

Children were thrilled for the chance to do some screening themselves and find artifacts—a hands-on archaeological experience for all ages.

Poster with historical photos of 34 Cleveland and John C. Young, etc.Down the street was the site of my Grandfather’s store, Kwong Wo Chan, now with an easel in front with a picture of the store, photos of my dad, John C. Young, biking down Cleveland, and my grandmother with her neighbors. At the trench of the restaurant, Ken Ying Low, I noticed that people wanted to handle the porcelain pieces, and Mike S. said, “go ahead, touch it, it’s survived a hundred years.”

The last stop, where I was stationed most of the time, was the site of the Ng Shing Gung Temple, center of the Chinese community and heart of its culture. There at the corner of Taylor and 6th I had the expansive view of Cleveland Avenue and people walking towards me. The clouds had scattered and the sky was big and bright. This is the same fung swei my ancestors felt in 1887. When the visitors gathered around, I was inspired to tell them of the scene my father described: how on the eve of every feast day, the Lunar New Year or Dai Jui, people would come out of their stores with pots and bowls to go to the mui (temple) for their share of the “jai” prepared by the caretaker and blessed by two Taoist priests. I even gave the recipe, which I learned through oral history to me from my grandparents. People seemed fully engaged in the tour and impressed by the significance of what they saw.

Connie talking to a tour groupI wanted to express how I felt about the spirit of the people who lived here, their struggle against exclusion, and how they had a home base here for 44 years because of the courage of John Heinlen, but I think they had already gotten it by now.

For me, as a historian and descendant of this Chinese community, it was a deeply involving personal experience, with even some surprising revelations. Folks told me stories—they shared their memories. A Filipino couple who used to live in the area said they had been in the temple as curious children, and described how dark and mysterious it was, with incense burning.

Ed and Vince ChinI guided two elderly men, Ed and Vince Chin, cousins who met up for the first time in ten years—at this Open House—to the site of my grandfather’s store. I pointed to the photos and asked questions and learned more than I expected. Ed Chin used to live on 6th street and knew my grandparents and dad. Vince lived at his family store next to my grandfather’s. He walked silently and slowly with a cane, but the place evoked his memories. He suddenly told of how he used to peek through the wooden cracks of the walls and watch my Grandmother. I asked cautiously, what was she doing? He responded vigorously, “Making whiskey!”

At the end of the Open House, working without a break, everyone on the team was hoarse, parched, hungry and exhausted, but smiling and up because of the enthusiastic turnout. Many visitors expressed their enthusiasm and gratitude upon leaving. One guest told me, how wonderful the tour was, that it was “like a PBS experience!”

“Come and See Archaeology in Action” said the announcement and 540 people came and did just that. It was an amazing day. I want to say Julia, Adrian, Charlene, Annita, Mike M., Mike S., Mark, Charlie, Chelsea, Erica, Sandra, Bryan, Maria, Leslie, Rut, Erin, Elaine-Maryse, Bryan and Anna, every single one of the crew and volunteers who made this day happen! Well done!

Connie Young Yu