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.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Thea here, good day to you all.

I want to tell everyone about the tours I gave yesterday during public day.

Naomi, AnnMarie and I were the tour guides and took tour groups around the site. We started them talking to Connie at the temple, because she had some really good pictures and she set the stage for why Chinatown moved to this place. It wasn’t as though they ‘fancied a move’, as Adrian said. It was because they were burned out of their original settlement by racist anti-Chinese riots.

One of the people asked why this German guy Heinlen would go to such lengths to help and protect the Chinese. She said it may be because he was from Ohio and people there were very anti-German. German churches were burned, and Germans experienced prejudice just like the Chinese had. It may have invoked empathy in Heinlen. At risk to himself and his family he leased land to the Chinese and even built a fence to help protect them.

One person on my second or third tour was a man who knew families of people who used to live in the Japantown area. As I was pointing out the historic building that is now a Cuban restaurant, he informed me that it used to be a gambling hall. He said that if you look through the alley, there is still this huge fence behind the back door. Apparently they built that fence so the high rollers couldn’t easily escape without paying their bill, and the fence survives today as a remnant.

At the end of the tour as I focused the group’s attention on the three surviving buildings, I tried to stress the importance of being aware that parts of this historic settlement still exist. It isn’t well known, and most of the community doesn’t pay attention. But the past still echoes through; in the original bricks that poke out of the modern stucco; in the shards of broken ceramics that lie inches under the feet of community.

Exposing the public to the richness of San Jose’s past not only facilitates a vast appreciation among the members of the community that joined us on our tours, but will hopefully trickle through more and more people as the friends that joined us talk about their adventures. This is how parts of the past, many of which have been glossed over by the history books, live on to increase the richness and substance of one of California’s most wonderful cities.

Thea Fuerstenberg
Graduate Student