Instructors, professors and AmeriCorps volunteers were educated with a first hand look at the history of the diversity of Salinas and how it developed the city. We also learned how the changes in the valley from the growing of crops changed the terrain and the water situation.
We learned that the Chinese first went to Salinas to build the railroad from Salinas to Castroville, but the Chinese knew how to change swamp and bogs into growable land and through those efforts, Salinas Valley became the largest area for growing produce in the United States. The Chinese had their own community which still exists today on Soledad Street.
We saw what was left of China Town and a few of the buildings that still exist, and one of them, a Chop Suey restaurant of olden days, will soon be a museum showing the history of the Chinese in the city. The area is next to the homeless street and a garden that has become an essential part of China Town. Homeless folks work in the garden and across the street is Dorothy’s place where two meals are served everyday to anyone who is hungry.
CSUMB works hard at the restoration of China Town, and at the same time, offer solutions to homelessness.
After the Chinese came to Salinas, Spreckels sweetened the deal for the Japanese when he began growing beets to process for sugar. After the Japanese, Filipinos came to work in the fields, as well.
There is much history on what the government did to cut off the Asian population from the downtown of Salinas – which we know as Steinbeck’s life as a kid. We learned that it was the Filipinos who organized labor unions to make working conditions better.
The tour took us to a park that at one time was a dump but because of CSUMB students, schools, families and children, the park is full of trees, green grass and lots of places to rest.
We also heard from three policemen who told us how they are trying to get children tempted by gang life into activities that are available to them.
There was a brand new library on the tour, which houses a huge community room. We met a teenager there, who the day before, won $1,000 for his poem. When he read it, I got a lump in my throat. It was raw and real.
There was just so much on this tour that showed the diversity of the city and surrounding area, and the extreme efforts many are making to find solutions to the city that seems to be crying out for peace.