This blog is meant to be an unbiased look at Locke's history, and I stand by that whole-heartedly. One thing that really bothers me is that certain people who claim to be the "official" ones preserving Locke's history in Locke, have been promoting a very one-sided approach to sharing its history.
In various plaques within the town you will see their mentioning of the Alien Land Law of 1913, and how it discriminated against Chinese in Locke. First and foremost let's make two things clear:
The Alien Land Law of 1913, which is also known as the Webb-Haney Act prohibited ANY aliens from owning property in California. From the beginning, it focused on Japanese immigrants first. It was not specifically against Chinese, but branched out to include all Asians (except Filipinos) and even included East Indians who were not eligible for citizenship.
Still, there was always a way to skirt around the law, which is exactly what happened.
"The intent of the law was to restrict land ownership by Japanese immigrants. However, by assigning ownership of land to second generation children, born in the United States and thus citizens, or by the use of extended leases the law could be evaded."---(http://www.intimeandplace.org/Japanese%20Internment/reading/constitution/alienlandlaw.html)
Back to Locke
Secondly, the law has never applied to Locke and never will. Why? Because Locke was private property owned by the Locke family long before it became a town, and it remained in the Locke family estate until the last of all the Locke heirs passed away.
So because no part of Locke was ever for sale when owned by the Locke family, and no part of Locke was offered for sale to any other persons the law could never apply to Chinese residents in Locke. In other words, the Chinese were not refused the opportunity to purchase land in Locke, it was just that no part of Locke was ever for sale when the Locke family owned it.
This was simply private property owned by a family who at one point in time very generously allowed people of all races and ethnic backgrounds to build homes and businesses on their land, and they were considered tenants of said property owners (The Locke family) whose tenants paid rent monthly to their landlords. So you see, the Locke’s never had any intention to sell their land at any point in time so they could never be guilty of withholding property from anyone based on their ethnic background or nationality. So the Alien Land Law of 1913 cannot apply.
The residents of Locke didn’t own the property they lived on, not because of racial prejudice, but simply because the owners of the property never had any intention to sell it, to anyone. They preferred keeping their property in their family estate. There is nothing discriminatory about that. The late Connie King was quoted in an interview for the Locke Oral History Project for the Parks Department, when she mentioned speaking to Mr. Locke (I am assuming Clay Locke, grandson of George W. Locke, who lived on his ranch there until his death in 1963) and in regards to being asked why residents in Locke (after 1952) could not own their homes in town, she stated: “See, I talk to Mr. Locke several times because I help him collect rent, see, so I said, “Why can’t you?” He said, “Because this land is owned by the Locke family and the family’s too big and not everybody agreed to sell.” So that’s what happened.”--- quoted from transcript in “Locke Oral History Project,” written by Maya Beneli, interviewed by Patrick Ettinger, Ph.D.,page 206.
In reality, and you can check the property records on this, Locke belonged to the Locke family from its beginnings all the way until the last of the Locke heirs passed away in 1969. It wasn’t until after the Locke’s had all passed away and the estate went into probate that a Chinese businessman from China came in and purchased the entire parcel in the 1970’s, which they intended to create a Chinese Amusement Park where the town is. That businessman Ng Tor Tai, is the brother-in-law of Clarence Chu. No one ever brings up the fact that from the 1970’s until the County stepped in over 25 years later, the homes in Locke were unavailable for residents to own as well. It is a well-known fact that during that time period it was Ng Tor Tai who owned the town, and the entire parcel that once was the Locke Estate, and he had not offered the properties to residents to own, but in fact allowed the town to fall into such disrepair during that time the town was about to be condemned.
Local government had to get involved to save Locke and then eventually those who had homes in Locke had the opportunity to own each individual property. Why then is it that this part of Locke’s history is never is mentioned? Yet, this false narrative that somehow residents were deprived of owning their homes between 1916-1953, because of some archaic land law or discrimination against Chinese is what is constantly pushed, when that simply wasn’t so. There seems to be double standards in this case since no one seems to complain that the later owner of Locke, Ng Tor Tai, for all the years of him owning the land, he didn’t offer the properties to residents either. Where is the outrage about that?
Historical Accuracy --The Census records for Locke going back to its early beginnings show that Locke was inhabited by a lot of different people, not solely Chinese. I have been researching Locke’s history for several years now and I have many of my findings on this blog which is backed up by primary source materials. Please feel free to read more about it, here are just a few links:
Yes, many Chinese lived in Locke, there is no denying that, but it was NOT exclusively lived in, built for and ran by Chinese. To say that Locke was exclusively a Chinese town would be revising the facts and that is history revisionism, and that is morally wrong.
Also, many of the Chinese living in Locke had fake papers (“Paper Sons”), meaning they had obtained fraudulent identification to show they were “Citizens” and not immigrants. What did that mean for them? It meant some of them could vote, own businesses and yes, even own land!
I have seen page by page lists of the voting registries of Locke going so far back as 1916 and census records from 1920 to the 1930’s showing there was diversity in Locke. Chinese and Caucasian residents, as well as Japanese in its earlier years, and later Russian, Italian, Portuguese as well as many other residents of various ethnic backgrounds. Going back to the early 1916-1918 voting registries, a registered VOTER on the list meant they were listed as Citizens.
Lee Bing was one of the people in Locke’s earlier history. The book “Bitter Melons” by Jeff Gillenkirk and James Motlow quoted Lee Bing’s son as saying his father “bought a lot of land” because, as it reads, “That law [ about Chinese not owning land] was pretty flexible.” – page 34. Another thing to note, Lee Bing was an immigrant from China, who was using fake papers, and yet he owned land all over California, including Walnut Grove. As the book plainly states, the law was pretty flexible.
So in ending, I hope that you will see that the narrative that somehow the former residents of Locke were prevented from owning their homes because of some archaic land law is actually false. Locke was never for sale and was never going to be for sale as long as the Locke family had ownership of it, therefore there was no discrimination against anyone. In fact, it was quite the opposite. When in other areas of the state if Chinese or Japanese immigrants who might have wanted to purchase land but were denied because of the law, at least in Locke the Locke family allowed Chinese, Japanese and all sorts of other immigrants to rent from them and live there in peace.
Again, you must remember, the law only applied if (a) you were an alien and (b) if you were attempting to purchase land or property that was actually for sale. This did not apply in Locke because the Locke family never had any intention to break up their estate and sell it. Another thing to mention was that there were plenty of residents within Locke who had the ability to purchase land or property elsewhere if they wished to, because they used false identification (Paper Sons) in order to claim citizenship. If you were considered a citizen, you could vote, own businesses and yes, even own land or property. So not all Chinese immigrants were barred from owning land or property, as even Ping Lee mentioned in his quoted interview in "Bitter Melons."
(Copyright 2017) - J'aime Rubio www.jaimerubiowriter.com