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8 Reviews
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A SAD CHAPTER IN OUR HISTORY, June 26, 2000
By A Customer
I am so sorry to see that this title is out of print . . . I bought it in a small bookshop a few years ago, and it has haunted me ever since. It is about the Chinese in California's Central Valley who developed and lived in their own town: Locke. As the work subsided and the next generation grew up, they moved away one by one, until by now it is almost a ghost town. A few of the original Chinese founders remain, however, and the author has interviewed them as well as others he has tracked down. So, the book is a compilation of autobiographical sketches by the day laborers who were, if nothing else, most certainly over-worked and under-paid. As an oral history, it is unsurpassed in honor, honesty and sweat of the brow. Each interview is accompanied by photos; some are "then and now", and are most interesting! I hope this returns to print soon so we can all know the hard work and injustices that so many of our minorities lived with.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genghis Khan on Gold Mountain, July 13, 2008
By 
Giordano Bruno (Here, There, and Everywhere) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bitter Melon: Inside America's Last Rural Chinese Town (Paperback)
So are these the oriental horde, the unassimilable immigrant menace to America's proud Anglo heritage? You can see them in old black-and-white family photos on the pages of Bitter Melon. They all look something like Bing Fai Chow, pictured on the cover on his porch in 1976: small, bent, work-hardened people with a hardly inscrutable weariness in their eyes. No immigrant stock has ever been received more cruelly and ungenerously in America by the older immigrant stocks than the Chinese. Recruited by American capitalists deliberately to undercut wages to America's working poor, they were execrated by labor - brutalized, burned out, murdered, excluded, condemned to celibacy and familylessness, and slandered beyond words. But still they came, as I've recounted in my recent review of the book Island, and stayed.

Bitter Melon is the autobiography, in photos and oral histories, of a very small town in the delta of the Sacramento-San Joaquin rivers in central California. Locke was built on rented land in 1915 by a group of immigrants from the Zhongshan area of southern China. It thrived for a time as a river port supplying San Francisco with fresh vegetables, and it had a era of infamy providing gambling, drugs, and prostition to the good white citizens of the Bay Area and the state capital Sacramento. Then it simply grew tattered and ramshackle, as young people left and old people waited to die. By various quirks of land title and court procedure, Locke became a living ghost town. I visited it by bicycle many times in the late '60s and '70s. I may well have taken snapshots of Mr. Chow's house myself. By then, outsiders had begun to scratch their livings in Locke, farmworkers mostly, Filipino and Latino. In 1971, a photographer named James Motlow came to live in Locke; perhaps his work is responsible for saving the ghost town as a State Park, surrounded now by endless atrocious commuter non-communities, acres of McMansions and McTickytackies, all built where they shouldn't be on floodplains protected only by the earthern levies built by the unwelcome Chinese. If I sound scornful and elitist, so be it; go and have a look yourselves!

Did the "Celestials" assimilate? Not exactly. They have concentrated in certain urban neighborhoods, married each other more often than not, continued to prefer dim sum to bacon-and-eggs, not commonly accepting Christian doctrines... and they've committed the unpardonable sins of excelling financially, beating the WASPs on the SATs, and staying out of prisons. America is less a Melting Pot than a Baling Press, in which the vibrant 'others' of the world have been squeezed into a multi-cultural bundle.

But there is great strength in bundled fibers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!, May 14, 2007
This review is from: Bitter Melon: Inside America's Last Rural Chinese Town (Paperback)
This is a haunting and sad book, but filled with the dignity and hope that the Chinese immigrants brought with them to America. They were faced with more troubles than most newly arrived people, and managed to rise above them. This book is a honest story of the town of Locke. I highly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable book about a special place., May 28, 2013
By 
Jane T (Sacramento, Calfornia) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Bitter Melon: Inside America's Last Rural Chinese Town (Paperback)
I live not far from Locke, a tiny town in the Sacramento Delta, with a Chinese population dating back to the early days of Chinese immigration. I've bought and given this book to guests from Europe and to several friends. I take many visitors, adult and kids, to Locke, which is a pleasant riverside drive from Sacramento where I live. It's important to learn of the history and hardships of immigrants.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sad Chapter in our History, April 4, 2012
By 
Anne Salazar "inveterate reader" (Huntington Beach, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bitter Melon: Inside America's Last Rural Chinese Town (Paperback)
I am so sorry to see that this title is out of print . . . I bought it in a small bookshop a few years ago, and it has haunted me ever since. It is about the Chinese in California's Central Valley who developed and lived in their own town: Locke. As the work subsided and the next generation grew up, they moved away one by one, until by now it is almost a ghost town. A few of the original Chinese founders remain, however, and the author has interviewed them as well as others he has tracked down. So, the book is a compilation of autobiographical sketches by the day laborers who were, if nothing else, most certainly over-worked and under-paid. As an oral history, it is unsurpassed in honor, honesty and sweat of the brow. Each interview is accompanied by photos; some are "then and now", and are most interesting! I hope this returns to print soon so we can all know the hard work and injustices that so many of our minorities lived with. (June 26, 2000)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living History captured before it's gone, August 25, 2009
By 
Margo A. (San Francisco, CA) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Bitter Melon: Inside America's Last Rural Chinese Town (Paperback)
I have had the pleasure of knowing James Motlow for the last 6 years as a gentle, kind, humble person who only recently mentioned in conversation with me (a person who does photography and photo restorations) that he had helped write and did the photography for a book called, Bitter Melon. What an incredible undertaking this project of love was, and what a rich history has been preserved because of it. It speaks of the strong will, tenacity, and pride of a people who were ill treated by our Government, yet they graciously share with these white Americans who had gained their trust their personal stories of life in Locke, California in the Sacramento Delta. Jeff Gillenkirk and James Motlow present an historical gift to us that should be required reading in Middle Schools or High Schools. It is a book worth its weight in gold.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My taste of Bitter Melon, February 6, 2009
By 
Walter W. Ko "Walter Ko" (St Louis, MO United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bitter Melon: Inside America's Last Rural Chinese Town (Paperback)
Bitter Melon is a good thirteen collection of oral history on a small town called Locke in Sacramento Delta, California. It is the only town built, inhabited by and for the Chinese who cultivated the land and picked the fruits. This town was set up from a deal between 8 Chinese merchants and landowner George Locke with a hand shake.

The town is uniquely Chinese and American. The main street is a typical old Western setting to reflect the era with gambling dens, stores, restaurants and brothels and boarding houses in the height of Chinese Exclusion period. Reading the book with black and white private collection of family pictures shared their personal experience of labor under wind, shine and rain in growing spinach, asparagus, cherries and pears with a proud Zhongshan district heritage.

There were a few interesting photos. On p. 37, it showed five rows of mainly Chinese men with two women and three kids commemorating the death of Dr Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Republic. Effie Lai on p.70, a native born in San Francisco shared a long story with a 1922 wedding picture in western styles of white bridal dress, flower kids and groom in tuxedo. Another on p.78 showed three towns welcoming Chinese General Tsai Ting-kai on his world tour calling for the defense against Japan invasion.

This book of text and pictures remembers this Western town which witnessed many changes. It was a survival testimonial of blood, sweat and tears in building and cultivating American West. It will be a companion album for the town Centennial Anniversary in 2015.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars America's last abandoned China towns?, March 8, 2007
This review is from: Bitter Melon: Inside America's Last Rural Chinese Town (Paperback)
This book was written in 1987. About it 1990 we stopped there and have Char Sha Bao. Recently(2007) we took a trip to Locke and Walnut Grove. What appeared to be a deserted Chinese town has changed a lot. Asian stores shown in the book now is tailored towards Hispanics. Signs of decay and negligence is everywhere.

The Chinese classroom (pp 119) is almost abandoned with last book added around 1960s. We left the donation in the self guided classroom and wonder what is going to become this town. Perhaps, just another Sacramento delta deserted village? Did they ever find a buyer? Time will tell.....
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Bitter Melon: Inside America's Last Rural Chinese Town
Bitter Melon: Inside America's Last Rural Chinese Town by Jeff Gillenkirk (Paperback - June 1, 1993)
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