A few years ago, our family attended a wedding on the Sacramento River Delta. Although it's less than an hour away from California's state capitol, the whole Delta area is like a trip back in time — or to the Mississippi River– with its wide open farmland, one-stoplight towns, and system of levees and drawbridges.
While looking up information for our trip, I found out that very close to where we were staying was the the last remaining rural Chinatown. Nestled again the dirt levee of the Sacramento River is the tiny town of Locke, California.
Turning down the main street that makes up the old business district of Locke is like a trip-within-a-trip (take that, Hunter S. Thompson!) Leaning wooden buildings, many with second story porches, give you a feeling for what it must have been like back in the early 1900s.Locke Chinese School
There is an old Chinese school, where the American flag hangs next to the flag of the Republic of China. This is the current flag of Taiwan. You see, Locke was settled during by immigrants from the Canton province of mainland China, between after the last emperor and before the Communist Revolution.
There is a tiny gift shop, the Dai Loy gambling house (which has now been turned into a museum), and a Chinese restaurant.
A visitor's center run by the California State Parks system sits at one end of town, but it was not open during our first visit or our return a year later. Less than 80 people currently live in the old homes just off of Main Street.
The town of Locke captured my eye and my imagination. I wondered what it was like back in the day, before the buildings were creaking and leaning -- or were they always that way? My mind raced with a thousand starting points for fictional stories.
Also, if you're interested in non-fiction and beautiful photography, check out Bitter Melon: Inside California's Last Rural Chinese Town by Jeff Gillenkirk and James Motlow.
A version of this piece was originally published as part of the Summer Reading Series on HapaMama.com.
All images and text (c) 2011 Grace Hwang Lynch