By ART GERMAN / Valley Community News writer
September 2010 is bound to be a very busy month in the life of long-time Sacramento area resident Lawrence Tom as he begins an intensive local speaking schedule to promote his newly-published book, “Sacramento’s Chinatown.”
At least eight public library presentations are scheduled for him in September at branches throughout Sacramento County, including talks at the Belle Cooledge library in South Land Park (Sept. 18 at 3 p.m.), and the Robbie Waters branch in the Pocket area (Sept. 23 at 6:30 p.m.). Other dates include Sept. 8 at the McClatchy library in the Midtown area and Sept. 15 at the main library downtown.
The 73-year-old Lawrence Tom wrote the text and assembled the 200-plus photos in his book with his younger brother, Brian Tom, an Oakland-area resident who graduated from UC Berkeley and the UC Davis School of Law. The younger Tom practiced law for 25 years and served as an administrative law judge.
The book marked their second collaboration to compile the story of Chinese immigration to Northern California, which began with the Gold Rush in the mid-19th century. Their first book, “Marysville’s Chinatown,” was published in 2008.
The Tom brothers were born in Marysville, which in the early gold rush days was an important way-station for Chinese newcomers flocking to the gold fields.
Lawrence Tom moved to Sacramento in 1957, when he enrolled at Sacramento State and emerged with a degree in business administration. He then settled down in the capital, married and raised a family. He spent 40 years in state government, mostly as a career executive with CalTrans, and close to half a century with his family as a Greenhaven resident.
Tom said the early-day immigrants, most of whom came from southwestern China centering around Guangdong province and the Hong Kong area, were attracted by stories of gold discoveries, “and like most of those who emigrated to America, were seeking a better life for themselves.”
Among the early-day Chinese, Tom said, Sacramento was known as “Yee Fow,” which translates to “second city.” The “first city” was San Francisco, where the immigrants made their first landfall, he added.
The book also reviews the intensive discrimination that early-day Chinese immigrants encountered when they arrived here, including the enactment of laws in California that barred them having the same legal protections as other newcomers to the U.S. Tom said the anti-Chinese discrimination continued in one form or another until the mid-20th century.
Tom said a number of Chinese organizations are currently working together to establish a Sacramento Yee Fow center as an historical memorial for the days long gone by.
“We hope the book will generate a greater interest from the public in increasing awareness of the history of the Chinese pioneers in California and the Sacramento area,” he said.
Tom noted that the original Chinese community along I Street between 2nd and 6th streets was mostly torn down over the years and redeveloped, and that descendants of the original settlers now live throughout the community.
“This book is dedicated to the Chinese of Sacramento,” Tom said, “who for over 150 years have turned adversity into opportunities and in the process have succeeded in building better lives for their families and future generations.”
The book is profusely illustrated, with many scenes of life in Sacramento during the 19th century, followed by more recent photos depicting the role of Chinese-American soldiers and sailors during 20th and 21st century wars, plus the role of local community leaders in business and politics among descendants of the 19th century Chinese immigrants. Many of the book’s photos will be shown as slides during the library presentations.
“Sacramento’s Chinatown” was published by Arcadia Publishing, a South Carolina-based firm that specializes in books that expand readers’ knowledge of America’s people and their places in history.