Behind the Scenes Blog: San Luis Obispo’s Hidden Chinatown

Walking into class on monday was a little nerve wrecking. We had just finished up our last project on augmented reality and I had personally hit a lot of roadblocks finishing up the main components for that story. Kenny Campbell, Bailey Ellis, Eric Wagner and I all sat in a circle trying to figure out what the best story could be for the next two week.

We first figured we could do a story on alternatives to getting drunk in San Luis Obispo, but then we realized after a few days that we really don’t have a story there. All of the alternatives are pretty well known between the students and the “so what?” component of the story just wasn’t there. At this point it was wednesday, and we really needed to start on our projects in order to meet the deadline.

We then came across the idea of San Luis Obispo’s long lost Chinatown and the remains of it tucked near downtown San Luis Obispo. We decided to change our topic and go in depth with the history of what the remanence of today’s Chinatown  used to be and how it became what it is now.

The Chinatown that we were about to do an extensive story on was all new information to us. No one on our team knew that Chinatown even existed. So we really had to start from ground zero to start this story. As the public relations person, I started to do my outreach and I also noticed that a lot of people of the community didn’t know there was a Chinatown in San Luis Obispo either. We all then noticed how crucial the story telling and information gathering of this story would be.

Now that we knew how much knowledge the community has on this topic and we had gathered a few sources, we all set out to uncover and tell the story. We interviewed Ethnic Studies professor Grace Yen, set out to find the last remaining elements of Chinatown and went to the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art to get some answers.

“Reporting on this story has helped me as a journalist by making me realize how important having good sources are to stories and how many different types of video can be used to tell a story.” Campbell said.

As we started to uncover the bits and pieces of what used to be Chinatown, we all realized what importance this story holds, not only to San Luis Obispo but to the Chinese community that essentially built this city from the railroads to the Chinese exclusion act. “I think this topic is important and relevant to the community of SLO because many people do not know how this community came to be and the Chinese immigrants helped build our community.” said Ellis.

Professor Yen, who was very informed in the topic told us how San Luis Obispo’s Chinatown came about and Ah Louis was an important part of the Chinese community. Ah Louis’s store, which is now owned by a different family, is open and running today. We walked through the street and took pictures of the remanence of what used to be a big, vibrant Chinatown.

“It was great to interview someone that was so passionate about the history of their town… after covering this story I’ve gained a deeper understanding of San Luis Obispo and the pioneers that built it.” Wagner said.

“As a journalist, it’s these stories that make me enjoy what I’m doing.” Wagner also added.

As we wrapped up our small journey through the hidden left jewels of the historic Chinese community, we all gained a new and profound respect for San Luis Obispo’s rich and once diverse community.  As we came to the end of the project and send all of our work in for publishment, we realized how valuable the work of being a journalist is.