It's mid-afternoon and the streets of the big red neighborhood are bustling like never before. Men of short stature but great vigor unload endless crates into the hands of porcelain ladies who receive them without apparent harm and arrange in the depths of their stores and warehouses.
Everyday Chinese life is repeated there, driven by the already deeply genetic vocation of pursuing profit almost without rest.
We arrive in September and the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunisolar calendar is approaching, a harbinger of the autumnal equinox. The vast population in the diaspora responds to the millenary appeal of the celebration of prosperity that, at one time, contemplated almost only rural benefits, but today, due to the evolution of the economy, it also takes into account its numerous businesses - for some reason they became known - of the China.
Chinese, American or Sino-American?
We investigate the action in one of the central streets of the neighborhood when we see an entertaining couple placing stickers with the United States flag on plastic packaging, over large open barrels, full of ginger.
Couple put stickers with the US flag on gingerbread packages.
We approach and follow the procedure that the head of the household's sunglasses make us look even more intriguing.
At this time, the Yankee nation remains in crisis and calls to consume American and reject Chinese products come from everywhere but mostly in shortwave and via satellite and cable by ultra-conservative activists, Tea Party and Fox Channel as the incorrigibles Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Levine, among others.
At first, Li Chin is flustered but soon realizes that we don't want to harm him and assumes the cheat. “They want to buy national, we give them our national. Believe me, most are not smart enough to tell the difference.
Some of this ginger is from here, another is from China, the stickers, those, are all patriots. If we offer packages with Chinese letters for sale, they boycott us. Here is the American product that they so much advocate.”
It doesn't hurt to realize that despite nearly 200 years of presence in San Francisco, the integration of its Chinatown remains to be completed. Chinese culture – especially of the predominant Han ethnic group – has always been supreme and does not give itself once and for all, not even in old California which, even in debt up to its neck, contemplates the rest of the United States and the world from the top of a pedestal.
We pass by a wall on which a huge Stars and Stripes with the expected inscription of God Bless America. But the author omitted the B from the sentence and, despite later correction, the message remains distorted, for the contemplation and reflection of residents and outsiders.
Political and Controversial Mural decorates a street in Chinatown.
Moon Festival: a Moon Cake Festival
At the confectionery shop next door, there is no time to waste on philosophical analyses. It's festive season and neither the owners nor the employees have a rest with so many requests for moon cakes, sponge cupcakes and other delicacies.
Made from egg yolks, beans, sesame and jujube, the festival's official little pastries are dense and heavy, as massive as they are delicious.
Chinese pastry vendors in the sweet heart of Frisco's Chinatown.
We devour two each effortlessly and we also unveil the derisory fate dictated by the papers hidden in the fortune cookies, satisfied, above all, by the palpable luck of the owners having offered us a small assorted box of Cantonese pastries.
San Francisco's Chinatown's Already Secular Past
The afternoon progresses and the cable cars that go up and down the surrounding San Francisco hills pour more people into the neighborhood. This Chinatown was formed like the city itself, when the 1849 Gold Rush it attracted people from all over the North American territory and from other countries.
It survived an outbreak of bubonic plague and the earthquake and mega-fire of 1906. Its ever-growing population also resisted prejudice and aggression from the criminal clans that between 1870 and 1900 ran brothels, opium salons, gaming houses and dens of slavery from the same sloping streets because they aspired millions of fellow countrymen to arrive.
Shortly after the big earthquake, authorities planned to evict residents and urbanize the area with valuable property. To avoid this, a core of Chinese businessmen led by Look Tin Ely has collected enough funds from their fellow countrymen to reinvent the neighborhood as the tourist attraction it is today.
Crowds roam the streets of Chinatown during the San Francisco Moon Festival.
They hired architects to create the Chinatown Deco lines it preserves, with pagoda-style roofs and dragon lanterns lined the shopping streets.
The end was reached, but it did not end with discrimination and with legislation that prohibited emigration, such as the Exclusion Act. The city's Chinese then reinforced their political and economic unity and circumvented the new obstacles.
The Delicate Reality Bell of San Francisco's Chinatown
Today, many survive on less than $10 a year in one of the most expensive cities in the US, but in their minds, once established in the corporate heart of the Golden State, better opportunities will arise. Above all, they have reasons to celebrate.
American Chinese youth perform a dragon dance during the San Francisco Moon Festival.
We have reached a point where the crowd makes it difficult to move around. Groups of elders face mahjong and other challenges on card tables decorated with party program banners. Curious people watch the movements of the pieces over the shoulders of the protagonists and, from time to time, dare to suggest better solutions.
Mother encourages her daughters, about to perform in a traditional Chinese music exhibition.
At the same time, a procession of long, furry, gaudy dragons and lions animated by young people wind through the space regained by the security agents who serve the festival. This opens the way to the Grand Avenue where a music recital is about to begin.
Several groups play traditional themes and anthems with sounds of guzheng and other typical string and percussion instruments, supplanted by a couple of singers in a duet and typical costumes that make the audience shiver with the power of their contrasting voices.
Chinese-born singers liven up the Moon Festival with epic and popular Chinese themes.
The day is about to last and surprises us with more and more oriental emotions. On a bucket, on a corner already in the shade, a toothless old man wearing a conical hat greets passersby and makes a point of promoting his own.
The Elder Prophet of Everything a Little
He remains apparently moved by Baraka Obama's election to the White House, and on a poster covered in printed text he enunciates a long, crazy theory that explains why God led him to the presidency.
He argues that no one should accuse the Beijing government because each country must have a regime suitable for its population and moves on to various other assumptions involving Hitler, Bush, Sarah Palin, 666 the number of the beast and the Falun Gong spiritual discipline it claims to be, in reality, a terrorist group.
It also mentions a tiger from the San Francisco zoo, the accusation that Westerners wanted rain and other natural disasters to harm China and its Olympic Games, and so on. etc. etc.
He ends up blackmailing the nation that welcomed him: “Please forgive me for being chosen by God as his decoder. And please also pray for my longevity because if I die, the US will die. If I die early, the US die early.”
Elder exhibits his long theory that explains the election of Barack Obama to passersby.
This party is about to last. We move to the square where the unavoidable closing firework will be launched and we wait for nightfall to bring us the great moon that mentors the Festival of the Moon and almost everything that we had seen happen.