Mon June 6, 2011
Awakening the History of a Chinese Fishing Village
By John C. Cannon
Pacific Grove, CA – Outside the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, more than a hundred people watch as Chinese lion dancers weave through the crowd. The group follows the lions down Forest Avenue and then the coastal recreation trail to the site of a nineteenth century Chinese Fishing Village. For 50 years, fishermen worked Monterey Bay for fish, squid and abalone. Then, a fire destroyed the village in 1906.
Fremont resident Gerry Low-Sabado guides the walk. Although she no longer lives locally, her roots on the Monterey Peninsula run deep. She tells the crowd her great-grandmother, Quock Mui, raised a family in this village. "If you go to the Point Lobos whalers cabin, you'll see a picture of Quock Mui, the first documented Chinese woman born on the Monterey Peninsula," Low-Sabado said. The village occupied the rocky shoreline where Standford's Hopkins Marine Station now sits. Known as the Point Alemejas-Point Alones Chinese Fishing Village, it included a cluster of wooden houses, many on stilts at the water's edge.
As the group arrives at Hopkins, Stanford archeologist Bryn Williams talks about some of the artifacts unearthed at this very spot. "We found a lot of stuff that was either made locally in Pacific Grove by non-Chinese, or ceramics made in Europe, or in North America," Williams said. That's evidence the Chinese didn't seal themselves off from their neighbors, he said.
"It really showed that, despite maintaining these ties with China, the people who lived here in Pacific Grove at Point Alones were also integrating with the local non-Chinese community, interacting with the local non-Chinese community, and really building these sorts of complex social worlds. As an archeologist, that's really interesting to see," Williams added.
In fact, Low-Sabado's own family history hints at the link between the two communities. She said her great-grandmother, who spoke at least five languages, was known as Spanish Mary, "because Spanish-speaking people would ask her to translate for them. So I believe the fact that people asked her to translate for them tells us that she must've been a friend to many communities, because people aren't going to ask you to translate if they didn't trust."
Even though Low-Sabado grew up in Monterey, she tells the crowd she knew nothing about the village until she set out on a quest to learn about her ancestors. And that made her wonder why she had to dig so deep to learn about this piece of Pacific Grove History. So she turned to Mayor Carmelita Garcia for answers. "She was curious as to why the village was never acknowledged. And quite frankly, I didn't have an answer for her, except for, Why not?'" Garcia said. To memorialize the village, Garcia and Low-Sabado organized this Walk of Remembrance.
For Lotus Yee Fong of San Francisco, it's an opportunity to explore her own family history. Her great-grandfather was a fisherman in the Monterey area. And after reading a book on the region, she believes he may have lived in this very village. "In the back of the book, there are 11 fishermen named Yee, and we are on a quest to find which one of these can be our great-grandfather," Fong said.
Gerry Low-Sabado hopes the Walk of Remembrance will become an annual tradition. She said she's glad her work is awakening this story in the Monterey Peninsula community and beyond. "I'm ecstatic about the people who came out, and because they came from so far because it was so important to them," she said.
Now, by leading the way down the trail left by her Chinese-American ancestors, she's connecting future generations with their roots.