MENU
component-ddb-728x90-v1-01-desktop

Sun City "China Town"

Vintage photo reflects Republic Market grocery store when China Town flourished.

The buildings in downtown El Paso have seen their fair share of history, including a community that once flourished in the Borderland and helped build a business landmark — the Southern Pacific Railroad.

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Chinese migrated to El Paso to help build the railroad.

“After the railroads were complete in May of 1881, a number of the immigrants stayed behind and they established restaurants, shops and a number did different jobs,” said Robert Diaz, president of the El Paso County Historical Society.

Historians say the boundaries of Chinatown in El Paso between 1890 and 1900 were on Mills Street, Stanton Street to the east, El Paso Street to the west and it spread roughly for Fourth Street.

“Initially, many historians say Chinese immigrants felt like they could practice their culture here, that they were comfortable here,” said Diaz.

But the open doors for Chinese immigrants would close one year after the Southern Pacific Railroad was built.

In the spring of 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Chester A. Arthur.

The act became the first federal law to prohibit an ethnic group to migrate to the United States for labor purposes.

“After the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, many [Chinese immigrants] felt as though they couldn’t exist in El Paso anymore without feeling some sort of racial tension or the sense they didn’t belong here anymore,” said Diaz.

“At the same time, women were not allowed to come to the United States either. Some historians have discovered anywhere between two to four women lived in Chinatown [in El Paso],” said Diaz.

At its peak, there were roughly 300 Chinese immigrants living in El Paso, according to Diaz.

A historical marker dedicated to El Paso’s Chinese community stands next to San Jacinto Plaza on Mills Avenue. The marker states the Chinese community in El Paso was the largest in Texas in the 1920s.

During the early 1900s, a 12-year-old boy named George N S Yee arrived in El Paso with his father and made 225 South Oregon his home.

“It was a busy time. There were lots of Chinese coming and going. Some were traveling here, but there were no women,” said Yee, now 99 years old and living in east El Paso.

“[The men] would come in for rest, stay in town for a day or two and then go back to work,” said Yee.

At the corner of El Paso Street and Paisano Drive, Yee spent his teenage years stocking Chinese imports at Republic Market grocery store.

“They imported Chinese dry goods, herbs, almonds, salves, oil, pain killers,” said Yee.

“If they caught the cold, they knew what to do, they went to us. They’d mix the [herbs] together for them to brew in water and drink it,” said Yee.

When he was a sophomore at El Paso High School, Yee’s father told him it was time to go home to China and get married through a matchmaker, according to Yee’s daughter, Mae Quon.

“At this time, the war is breaking out already. He received notice from the American embassy he had to leave, any American citizen had to leave. Mom’s papers were not ready. He left with the intention of bringing her back,” said Quon.

The couple reunited about 10 years later and Yee brought his wife home.

“She came January 1948 and then I was born 10 months later and we all grew up here,” said Quon.

Generations of Chinese families like Yee’s prospered in El Paso for decades and continue to add cultural diversity to the Borderland. Yee has a garden in his home where he grows his own vegetables and a pond with orange fish.

Even though Chinatown in El Paso grew smaller over time, remnants of the once-vibrant community remained.

In the 1980s, a group from New Mexico State University led by Dr. Edward Staski conducted an archaeological study in downtown El Paso.

Imported dinnerware such as teapots, wine jars, and small medicine vials were excavated by students next to the Cortez Hotel in 1984, according to records with the El Paso County Historical Society.

The artifacts are now a collection at The University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Museum and Staski’s report can be found at the El Paso Library.

Concordia Cemetery in central El Paso also has a Chinese cemetery with dozens of graves. Some of them show recent maintenance such as flowers placed at the graves.The buildings in downtown El Paso have seen their fair share of history, including a community that once flourished in the Borderland and helped build a business landmark — the Southern Pacific Railroad.

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Chinese migrated to El Paso to help build the railroad.

“After the railroads were complete in May of 1881, a number of the immigrants stayed behind and they established restaurants, shops and a number did different jobs,” said Robert Diaz, president of the El Paso County Historical Society.

Historians say the boundaries of Chinatown in El Paso between 1890 and 1900 were on Mills Street, Stanton Street to the east, El Paso Street to the west and it spread roughly for Fourth Street.

“Initially, many historians say Chinese immigrants felt like they could practice their culture here, that they were comfortable here,” said Diaz.

But the open doors for Chinese immigrants would close one year after the Southern Pacific Railroad was built.

In the spring of 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Chester A. Arthur.

The act became the first federal law to prohibit an ethnic group to migrate to the United States for labor purposes.

“After the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, many [Chinese immigrants] felt as though they couldn’t exist in El Paso anymore without feeling some sort of racial tension or the sense they didn’t belong here anymore,” said Diaz.

“At the same time, women were not allowed to come to the United States either. Some historians have discovered anywhere between two to four women lived in Chinatown [in El Paso],” said Diaz.

At its peak, there were roughly 300 Chinese immigrants living in El Paso, according to Diaz.

A historical marker dedicated to El Paso’s Chinese community stands next to San Jacinto Plaza on Mills Avenue. The marker states the Chinese community in El Paso was the largest in Texas in the 1920s.


During the early 1900s, a 12-year-old boy named George N S Yee arrived in El Paso with his father and made 225 South Oregon his home.

“It was a busy time. There were lots of Chinese coming and going. Some were traveling here, but there were no women,” said Yee, now 99 years old and living in east El Paso.

“[The men] would come in for rest, stay in town for a day or two and then go back to work,” said Yee.

At the corner of El Paso Street and Paisano Drive, Yee spent his teenage years stocking Chinese imports at Republic Market grocery store.

“They imported Chinese dry goods, herbs, almonds, salves, oil, pain killers,” said Yee.

“If they caught the cold, they knew what to do, they went to us. They’d mix the [herbs] together for them to brew in water and drink it,” said Yee.

When he was a sophomore at El Paso High School, Yee’s father told him it was time to go home to China and get married through a matchmaker, according to Yee’s daughter, Mae Quon.

“At this time, the war is breaking out already. He received notice from the American embassy he had to leave, any American citizen had to leave. Mom’s papers were not ready. He left with the intention of bringing her back,” said Quon.

The couple reunited about 10 years later and Yee brought his wife home.

“She came January 1948 and then I was born 10 months later and we all grew up here,” said Quon.

Generations of Chinese families like Yee’s prospered in El Paso for decades and continue to add cultural diversity to the Borderland. Yee has a garden in his home where he grows his own vegetables and a pond with orange fish.


Even though Chinatown in El Paso grew smaller over time, remnants of the once-vibrant community remained.

In the 1980s, a group from New Mexico State University led by Dr. Edward Staski conducted an archaeological study in downtown El Paso.

Imported dinnerware such as teapots, wine jars, and small medicine vials were excavated by students next to the Cortez Hotel in 1984, according to records with the El Paso County Historical Society.

The artifacts are now a collection at The University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Museum and Staski’s report can be found at the El Paso Library.

Concordia Cemetery in central El Paso also has a Chinese cemetery with dozens of graves. Some of them show recent maintenance such as flowers placed at the graves.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off

Trending