Cultural significance of Asian-Americans in Tulare: The Ling Joe Family

An excerpt from the Tulare History Museum

One of the most prominent cultures we see in California since the era of the Gold Rush is Asian Americans. The recent violent acts and shooting against this culture have made it more critical than ever to examine how impactful this culture has been on California and Tulare.

People started migrating to California during the Gold Rush era, and since then, they have faced a lot of success and even more diversity. Since that time of their early migration California has been home to thriving immigrant communities from China, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Hong Kong, Thailand, and other parts of Asia1.

With the celebration of Asian American Heritage Month in May, we here at the Tulare Historical Museum fully recognize the contributions and influence of Asian Americans to the history, culture, and achievements in the United States, California, and Tulare.

The history of Tulare County’s Asian population dates back to the 1850s and 1860 when they migrated in large droves to work in the gold mines and exceptionally to construct the railroad. Desired for their cheap labor, railroad lines such as the Central Pacific Railroad hired them to expand the United States West. As a result of their high immigration, Chinatowns and Asian specific districts began to pop up in large cities. Many of these areas are still prevalent today, such as the old Chinatown district in Visalia’s downtown and Tulare’s section in the 200 block of South K Street.

Tulare’s most prominent citizen was Ling Haw, who arrived in Tulare from China in 1886, becoming a hardworking, successful businessman. Opening up a restaurant, Ling Haw soon became known as Ling Joe, taking his business partner’s surname. Despite what many might assume, Ling’s restaurant, the Good Cheer, did not serve traditional Chinese food; instead opting for good old-fashioned American cuisine. By 1888 Joe married San Francisco native Chan Sing Toy, thus becoming known as Mary Joe. Together they owned and operated several successful restaurants in Tulare for several decades such as “Mary Joe’s Cafe,” which Mary owned and operated from the 1930s to 1945 when she retired2.

More so than in any other state in America, the cultural impacts of Asian Americans helped build California. The history and heritage of the Chinese and Japanese immigrants here in Tulare County tell a story of perseverance. Through their stories, such as Ling Joe’s, I hope we can create an environment where all cultures are accepted and remembered for their historical significance.

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