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I can’t remember if I was assigned to read Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle'' at my predominantly upper middle class high school tucked in the foothills in Tucson, AZ. What I do remember is a group of friends saying “We don’t even think of you as being Asian, Feng-Feng. To us you are white.” I remember this because it meant that I was finally accepted. I wanted to be the farthest from my immigrant parents' culture, to rebel from the shame of the way they did everything different from a western household. Hearing this, my existence as an American was validated.


Like many Americans, I had returned home during the pandemic trying to reconnect with the past. On my journey I found the story of Chinese grocery stores in Tucson, where the Chinese Chorizo originates. Upon grasping historical knowledge surrounding the Chinese experience in America, I was dismayed by the mistreatment of Chinese immigrants throughout our country’s history. Why had it taken me this long to find out about such significant historical events that had such a relevant context in my own experience as an American? The effort to unearth information is likely by design. 


There is a saying "Anyone who loves the law or sausages should never watch either being made." To look away from unpleasant behind the scene processes we risk losing valuable truths and even some beautiful triumphs hidden in the most unsavory moments. These nuanced understandings of how things come to be help us progress towards the future. 


The obscured story of the Chinese Chorizo is a piece of history that deserves recognition in cookbooks and history books alike. Its historic context is as rich as its recipe. Its significance is as nourishing as its nutrients. 


There is a mountain of historical circumstances that lead to the creation of the Chinese Chorizo which I will with the best of my abilities try to unpack. Refer to this page as a work in progress cliff note, a prelude to a larger educational exhibition we are working on with the Arizona Historical Society. I will be updating the information here as I uncover and digest the large amount of unlinked historic documentation. If you are interested in contributing please inquire here.


A Delicious Link to History


The Chinese Chorizo is a historic food fusion that embodies the success of building resilience through community solidarity. Chinese and Mexican immigrants in Tucson during 1880-1960’s faced harsh racism and xenophobia under American legislation. These outcast communities helped each other thrive economically and culturally within Tucson’s downtown historic barrios. By 1950, an estimated 114 Chinese grocery stores became centers for community. Close-knit relationships were nurtured by catering to the taste and needs of the communities they inhabited. On top of carrying staple Mexican ingredients, stores provided service in Spanish and Indigenous languages, and credit to those who could not immediately pay for their groceries. This mutual aid helped carry the community through difficult times, especially during the Great Depression. Food united Mexican and Chinese Tucsonans, and thus, the Chinese Chorizo was born in these grocery stores. Highly demanded, and frequently sold out, the Chinese Chorizo symbolizes endurance of the prevailing spirit of immigrants against a complex and unfavorable context.



Home of the Chinese Chorizo 


Tucson, AZ was named the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States on December 15, 2015. Located in the Sonoran Desert, Mexican and Indigenous traditions heavily shaped the 4000 years of agricultural and culinary heritage, championing Tucson with the longest agricultural history of any city in North America. Where there is food, there are people who, within this vast timeline, contributed to the city’s diverse cultural history. 






A Contextual History of Early Chinese in Tucson 


The Chinese have not been the most likely community associated with Tucson, but their impact on the economy and development of the city was pivotal. During the 1870’s Chinese immigrants migrated mainly through Mexico and from a densely Asian populated California to experience a lesser degree of discrimination in Tucson, where the population of Asians were considerably lower. Still they were marginalized. They were often accused of stealing low wage jobs such as mining, farming, and building railroads, from white laborers. They were pinned against the Mexican and Indigenous communities for this same reason. Their labor ultimately helped achieve the West’s goal of Manifest Destiny, however instead of being celebrated, Chinese immigrants were met with an onslaught of racist legislation.

Chinese Exclusion in America


The Page Act of 1875 which barred Chinese women from immigrating to the US was the first legislation that prohibited a certain group of people from entering the US. Seven years later, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 made being a Chinese immigrant illegal in the United States. The Geary Act of 1892 extended the Chinese Exclusion Act adding an additional 10 years, requiring Chinese residents to carry certificates of residency at all times or face the punishment of hard labor, jail, and deportation. In 1902 Chinese immigration became permanently illegal in the United States and was furthered by the Immigration Act of 1917, banning all Asian immigrants from entering the US. Chinese exclusion would not be repealed until 1943. This Exclusion Era was the watershed for immigration law in the US and shaped the identity of America as a country along with its ideology around race, class, and immigration. In fact, the US border patrol was established inorder to enforce exclusion laws and prevent Chinese from entering the country which would later greatly impact the future of Mexican immigrants.


Beginning in 1861, the establishment of laws prohibiting interracial marriage specifically between Asians and whites in west coast states pushed Chinese exclusion further. Paired with the Page Act, these laws prevented the select few, often male Chinese immigrants: diplomats, teachers, students, merchants, from starting families. A branding of “driftless bachelors” stigmatized this group. Implicitly put, these laws stoked xenophobia, violence, and painted Asians in America as a barbaric other, clearly gatekeeping civil liberties and borders to a specific class and race. 



Mexican Migrant Labor in the Early 20th Century 


Mexican communities in America were facing different yet overlapping circumstances relating to discrimination and immigration in comparison to Chinese immigrants. They too were working some of the same hard labor, low wage jobs. Early 20th century Mexican immigrants were seen as impermanent migrant workers and therefore did not pose a threat to white ideals of America. They were branded by white settlers and investors as a higher class of laborers: a model minority of obedient workers who could withstand harsh working conditions. One-hundred years later, Chinese Americans would be rebranded with the same harmful model minority myth. 


Mexican migration was largely determined by the push and pull of Western imperialism and politics in Mexico. Both forces worked in tandem to install the US’s wage labor industrial economy on both sides of the border. After the US acquisition of southwestern territories in the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, many Mexicans resettled in Mexico. Migration to the US began to escalate when Mexican farmers were stripped from their land that was sold to US investors under Mexican President Porfirio Díaz’s force. The familiar “driftless” label left many of the landless Mexicans no choice but to be recruited as cheap laborers for railroad, mining, and farming industries in the U.S. southwest. 

The high demand for Mexican wage laborers in America was exacerbated by the waning number of Chinese immigrant labor following the Chinese exclusion laws. Violence from the 1910-1920 Mexican Revolution that eventually unseated Porfirio Diaz also contributed to the number of incoming Mexicans fueling the labor force while also motivating some to push forward with the revolution in order to return home to Mexico.

*This page is a work in progress and will be updated as we work to digest more history!*

References & Further Reading

1. Lee, E. (2003). At America's gates: Chinese immigration during the exclusion era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

2. Hernández, K. L. (2022). Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands. W.W. Norton & Company.

Said, E. W. (2003). Orientalism. Penguin Classics.

Zhou, S. (2020). Ornamentalism. By Anne Anlin Cheng. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. xiv, 204 pp. ISBN: 9780190604615 (cloth). The Journal of Asian Studies, 79(2), 555-556. doi:10.1017/S0021911820000704

Chinese Chorizo Recipe
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