Food Politics of Alliance in a California Frontier Chinatown

  • Charlotte K. SunseriEmail author


Archaeological investigation of Mono Mills (1880–1917), a pluralistic community in California’s mining frontier, is beginning to reveal how immigrants mobilized or mitigated power inequalities through identity expression, community cohesion, and labor relations. Archival records, coupled with the archaeology of household foodways in the Chinatown neighborhood, reveal how social inequalities, labor organization, and identities reflect the impacts of racialization and strategies of resistance. Multicultural objects and aspects of cuisine were intimately entangled in the practices of laborers’ daily lives. The research highlights impacts of late nineteenth-century legislation to discriminate against Chinese immigrants, the agency of marginalized groups, and the long-term effects of discrimination.


Social identities Foodways Chinese-American Discrimination 



Special thanks to editor Charles Orser as well as Mary Maniery, Rebecca Allen, Jun Sunseri and one anonymous reviewer for valuable comments on previous versions of this manuscript which greatly improved the article. This article began as a paper presented at the 2012 American Anthropological Association meetings in the symposium “Immigration Past and Present: Archaeology in Action” organized by Barbara Voss, and conversations with session participants aided in the development of the paper’s core ideas. Archaeological data for this paper is the product of the 2012 SJSU field project conducted in collaboration with the Mono Lake Kutzadika’a Paiute Indian Community, as well as faunal analysis research completed by Alexandra Levin. The opinions expressed and any errors in the manuscript are mine alone.


  1. Aarim-Heriot, N. (2003). Chinese Immigrants, African Americans, and Racial Anxiety in the United States, 1848–82, University of Illinois Press, Urbana.Google Scholar
  2. Appadurai, A. (1981). Gastro-politics in Hindu South Asia. American Ethnologist 8: 494–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ashby, S. P. (2002). The role of zooarchaeology in the interpretation of socioeconomic status: a discussion with reference to medieval Europe. Archaeological Review from Cambridge 18: 37–59.Google Scholar
  4. Barth, F. (ed.) (1969). Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference, Allen and Unwin, Bergen, Norway.Google Scholar
  5. Becks, F. (2012). Pilot Study in Microbotanical Plant Residue Analysis, Market Street Chinatown Archaeology Project, MSCAP Technical Report 4, University, Stanford, CA, Stanford.Google Scholar
  6. Billeb, E. W. (1968). Mining Camp Days, Howell-North, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  7. Cabak, M., and Loring, S. (2000). “A set of very fair cups and saucers”: stamped ceramics as an example of Inuit incorporation. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 4: 1–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Calhoun, M. (1984). Pioneers of Mono Basin, Artemesia, Lee Vining.Google Scholar
  9. Camp, S. L. (2009). Interactions between marginalized ethnic groups in early 20th century California. Asian American Comparative Collection Newsletter Supplement 26(3): 5–6.Google Scholar
  10. Camp, S. L. (2011). Consuming citizenship? the archaeology of Mexican immigrant ambivalence in early twentieth-century Los Angeles. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 15: 305–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Canton, W., and Canton, R. (2011). Bodie Railroad & Lumber Company: Railroad in the Sky, 1881–1917, Nevada Publications, Reno.Google Scholar
  12. Casella, E. C. (2005). “Social workers”: new directions in industrial archaeology. In Casella, E. C., and Symonds, J. (eds.), Industrial Archaeology: Future Directions, Springer, New York, pp. 3–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Conlin, J. R. (1979). Old boy, did you get enough of pie?: a social history of food in logging camps. Journal of Forest History 23(4): 164–185.Google Scholar
  14. Costello, J. G., and Maniery, M. L. (1988). Rice Bowls in the Delta: Artifacts Recovered from the 1915 Asian Community of Walnut Grove, Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  15. Costello, J. G., Hallaran, K., Warren, K., and Akin, M. (2008). The luck of Third Street: archaeology of Chinatown, San Bernardino, California. Historical Archaeology 42(3): 136–151.Google Scholar
  16. Cusick, J. G. (1998). Historiography of acculturation: an evaluation of concepts and their application in archaeology. In Cusick, J. G. (ed.), Studies in Culture Contact: Interaction, Culture Change, and Archaeology, Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, pp. 126–145.Google Scholar
  17. Dawdy, S. L. (2000). Understanding cultural change through the vernacular: creolization in Lousiana. Historical Archaeology 34(3): 107–123.Google Scholar
  18. Deagan, K. (1983). The Mestizo minority: archaeological patterns of intermarriage. In Deagan, K. (ed.), Spanish St.Augustine: The Archaeology of a Colonial Creole Community. The Florida Historical Quarterly 63: 99124Google Scholar
  19. Deagan, K. (1996). Colonial transformation: Euro-American cultural genesis in the early Spanish-American colonies. Journal of Anthropological Research 52: 135–160.Google Scholar
  20. Diehl, M., Waters, J. A., and Thiel, J. H. (1998). Acculturation and the composition of the diet of Tucson’s Overseas Chinese gardeners at the turn of the century. Historical Archaeology 32(4): 19–33.Google Scholar
  21. Fletcher, T. C. (1987). Paiute, Prospector, Pioneer: A History of the Bodie-Mono Lake Area in the 19th century, Artemesia, Lee Vining.Google Scholar
  22. Fosha, R. E., and Leatherman, C. (2008). The Chinese experience in Deadwood, South Dakota. Historical Archaeology 42(3): 97–110.Google Scholar
  23. Gendzel, G. (2009). It didn’t start with Proposition 187: hundred and fifty years of Nativist legislation in California. Journal of the West 48(2): 76–85.Google Scholar
  24. Greenwood, R. (1996). Down by Station: Los Angeles Chinatown, 1880–1933, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  25. Harrison, R. (2002). Archaeology and the colonial encounter. Journal of Social Archaeology 2: 352–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hellmann, V. R., and Yang, J. K. (1997). Previously undocumented Chinese artifacts. In Praetzellis, M., and Praetzellis, A. (eds.), Historical Archaeology of an Overseas Chinese Community in Sacramento, Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, pp. 155–202.Google Scholar
  27. Jack, I., Holmes, K., and Kerr, R. (1984). Ah Toy’s garden: a Chinese market-garden on the Palmer River Goldfield, North Queensland. Australian Journal of Historical Archaeology 2: 51–58.Google Scholar
  28. Kovel, R., and Kovel, T. (1986). Kovels’ New Dictionary of Marks: Pottery and Porcelain, 1850 to the Present, Crown, New York.Google Scholar
  29. Levie, A. (1963). The Meat Handbook, Avi, Westport.Google Scholar
  30. Lightfoot, K. (2005). Indians, Missionaries, and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the Caflifornia Frontiers, University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  31. Lightfoot, K. (2006). Missions, furs, gold and Manifest Destiny: rethinking an archaeology of colonialism for western North America. In Hall, M., and Silliman, S. (eds.), Historical Archaeology, Blackwell, Malden, pp. 272–292.Google Scholar
  32. Lightfoot, K. G., Martinez, A., and Schiff, A. M. (1998). Daily practice and material culture in pluralistic social settings: an archaeological study of culture change and persistence from Fort Ross, California. American Antiquity 63: 199–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Little, B. J. (2007). Historical Archaeology: Why the Past Matters, Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek.Google Scholar
  34. Lyman, R. L. (1987). On zooarchaeological measures of socioeconomic position and cost-efficient meat purchases. Historical Archaeology 21(1): 58–66.Google Scholar
  35. Mauss, M. (1967). The Gift: Forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies, W. W Norton, New York.Google Scholar
  36. McGuire, R. H., and Reckner, P. (2002). The unromantic West: labor, capital, and struggle. Historical Archaeology 36(3): 44–58.Google Scholar
  37. McIntosh, F. W. (1908). Mono County California: The Land of Promise For The Man Of Industry. F. W. McIntosh by Authority of Board of Supervisors, Mono County.
  38. Michaels, G. (2005). Peck-marked vessels from the San José Market Street Chinatown: a study of distribution and significance. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 9: 123–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Montón-Subias, S. (2002). Cooking in zooarchaeology: is this issue still raw? In Miracle, P., and Milner, N. (eds.), Consuming Passions and Patterns of Consumption, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge University, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  40. Mullins, P. R. (2008). “The strange and unusual”: material and social dimensions of Chinese identity. Historical Archaeology 42(3): 152–157.Google Scholar
  41. Omaha Herald. (1881). A raid on Chinese San Francisco. May 27.Google Scholar
  42. Pfealzer, J. (2008). Driven Out: The Forgotten War against Chinese Americans, Random House, New York.Google Scholar
  43. Philadelphia Inquirer. (1881). A Chinese row. May 28.Google Scholar
  44. Piatt, M. H. (2003). Bodie: “The Mines Are Looking Well.”, North Bay, El Sobrante.Google Scholar
  45. Praetzellis, A., and Praetzellis, M. (2001). Mangling symbols of gentility in the Wild West: case studies in interpretive archaeology. American Anthropologist 103: 645–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Praetzellis, M., Praetzellis, A., and Brown, M. R. (1988). What happened to the silent majority? research strategies for studying dominant group material culture in late nineteenth-century California. In Beaudry, M. (ed.), Documentary Archaeology in the New World, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 192–202.Google Scholar
  47. Salt Lake Tribune. (1881). And the Chinese didn’t go. May 29.Google Scholar
  48. San Francisco Bulletin. (1881a). Latest Pacific Coast telegrams. May 23: 4.Google Scholar
  49. San Francisco Bulletin. (1881b). Latest California news. May 25: 4.Google Scholar
  50. Sawyer, W. A. (1988). A History and Evaluation of the Mono Mills Railroad Logging District, Inyo National Forest, California, On file at the Eastern Information Center, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Riverside, Riverside.Google Scholar
  51. Silliman, S. W. (2001). Theoretical perspectives on labor and colonialism: reconsidering the California missions. Journal of Anthropological Anthropology 20: 379–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Silliman, S. W. (2005). Culture contact or colonialism? challenges in the archaeology of Native North America. American Antiquity 70: 55–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Silliman, S. W. (2006). Struggling with labor, working with identities. In Hall, M., and Silliman, S. (eds.), Historical Archaeology, Blackwell, Malden, pp. 147–166.Google Scholar
  54. Sprague, M. (2003). Bodie’s Gold, University of Nevada Press, Reno.Google Scholar
  55. Twiss, K. C. (ed.) (2007). We Are What We Eat: Archaeology, Food and Identity, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale.Google Scholar
  56. Vallianatos, H., and Raine, K. (2008). Consuming food and constructing identities among Arabic and South Asian immigrant women. Food, Culture and Society 11: 355–373.Google Scholar
  57. Voss, B. L. (2005a). The archaeology of Overseas Chinese communities. World Archaeology 37: 424–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Voss, B. L. (2005b). From Casta to Californio: social identity and the archaeology of culture contact. American Anthropologist 107: 461–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Voss, B. L. (2008). Between the household and the world system: social collectivity and community agency in Overseas Chinese archaeology. Historical Archaeology 42(3): 37–52.Google Scholar
  60. Watson, J., and Brodie, D. (2000). Big Bad Bodie: High Sierra Ghost Town, Robert Reed, Bandon.Google Scholar
  61. Wedertz, F. S. (1969). Bodie, 1859–1900, Sierra Media, Bishop.Google Scholar
  62. Wheat, M. M. (1977). Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes, University of Nevada Press, Reno.Google Scholar
  63. Wurst, L. (1999). Internalizing class in historical archaeology. Historical Archaeology 33(1): 7–21.Google Scholar
  64. Wurst, L. (2006). A class all its own: explorations of class formation and conflict. In Hall, M., and Silliman, S. (eds.), Historical Archaeology, Blackwell, Malden, pp. 190–208.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologySan José State UniversitySan JoséUSA

Personalised recommendations