Being Chinese In Tacoma in the 1940s

June 1943, The Ling Family from left Shun Chih, Jing Noe, Shun Hung; Shun Chow, Jing Chuan, Jing Chu, Shun Mei, Ling Yet Sze (mother), Shun Lein and Ling Yunan (father). (Photo courtesy of The Tacoma Public Library)

The following is another story published in 1989 in a book called Tacoma: Voices of the Past Volume 1. As the book is out of print and hard to find, I post this Tacoma Story here for others to discover.

I found this story particularly interesting given Tacoma’s particularly history of bad treatment towards the Chinese.

The Street Where I Lived

By Jing Chuan Ling

It was a certified letter from the City of Tacoma dated, January 17, 1986 that brought me back to Market Street, to the street where I grew up. It contained a notice that required every property owner to maintain his property free from vegetation and litter as defined in Section 8.31.010 of the Official Code of the City of Tacoma

As I drove down to check on the property at 1532 Market Street, my thoughts went back to the days of my youth in the Market Street neighborhood downtown. When I was born, my parents, three brothers and two sisters lived at 1312 Market Street. My dad’s N. Lan Chinese Medicine Company office was in the front area and our living quarters were in the rear. The Dewey Hotel was above us and its lobby was just north of us. Through the large hotel windows, men could be seen sitting in leather seats smoking their cigars and cigarettes, reading newspapers or talking. I do not recall seeing any women idling their time away in the lobby.

By the time I was three years old, the family had moved to 1556 Market Street. Three more brothers and a sister were added to the family here.  We lived at this address for fourteen years. My father, Yunan Ling, an herb doctor and an importer of Chinese curios, had his office and display window on the south and front side. The rest of the area was partitioned off with panels to accommodate a dining-living area, a kitchen, a bathroom, a large bedroom, a small closet,  a storage room and an attic. Above us was the Columbus Hotel which had several floors. Next door, to the north, was the Tacoma Jujitsu School. Jujitsu is a Japanese offensive and defensive show of strength without weapons. In the evenings, my brothers and I would take turns peeking through the keyhole to observe the activity of young men tossing and slamming their bodies onto mats laid out on the floor.

To my knowledge, we were the only Chinese family on Market Street. Several Japanese families had living quarters in the rear or above their places of business. The Tofu Company Food Products was at 1546 Market Street, the Pacific Hand Laundry was at 1356 Market Street, and a grocery store was at 1354 Market Street. It seemed that these businesses just disappeared overnight along with all my Japanese playmates. I was too young at the time to understand or question the sudden change in the neighborhood when the Japanese were sent to concentration camps. What remains in my memory are the stickpins labeled “Chinese” which we were required to wear to identify ourselves.

Other thriving businesses in our neighborhood, during my young and innocent youth, were the “houses of ill repute” across the street, down the hill and at the hotel on the northwest corner of Fifteenth and Market Street. All I knew was that a lot of men, neatly dressed in business suits, frequently went in and out of those places. At night, a red light could be seen burning in the window. When Tacoma made national headlines during the Crime Commission investigations in the early fifties, I recognized several of the personalities implicated. I never observed any outward display of solicitation which is so evident today in downtown Tacoma.

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