Bitter Melon: Inside America's Last Rural Chinese Town

By: Jeff Gillenkirk and James Motlow

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In 1915 a group of immigrants from the Zhongshan area of southern China
built their own town in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of California,
called Locke.  The only town in the United States built and inhabited
exclusively by Chinese, Locke soon grew to provide all the services needed
by a population of farm laborers, mostly single men.  Main Street had
brothels, gambling houses, stores and restaurants, cheap rental rooms and
speakeasies.  More than that, Locke provided a place of refuge for Chinese
immigrants in an unwelcoming world.  Men who were able to marry found that
family life coexisted happily with the bawdy commerce on Main Street. 

In 1971, a young photographer named James Motlow became one of a handful of
non-Chinese living in Locke.  As he came to know and love his neighbors, he
wanted to see their stories told.  Bitter Melon is this telling, in the
words of Locke's people told to Jeff Gillenkirk, and the images made and
collected by Motlow.  The thirteen oral histories and fifty-eight eloquent
photographs are supplemented by historical essays and an overview of
Locke's situation today.  The result is a window into a fascinating and
hidden aspect of American history.


New York Times Book Review:
"The faces and voices so powerfully captured by Jeff Gillenkirk, a writer,
and James Motlow, a photographer, in their oral history testify to a
dramatic shift in outlook and expectation.  For this aging group of Chinese
agricultural workers in the 1980s, the bitterness has passed.  Their
stories of back-breaking labor, social ostracism and grinding poverty are
laced with sadness but also with pride."

The New Yorker:
"A picture history and collective oral memoir of a century or so in the
Sacramento  Delta.  The residents and former residents speaking here --
seven in English, six through a skillful interpreter -- landed in Locke,
California, by chance, by choice, by birth, by marriage, by necessity.  And
in Locke, as one of them says, 'it was very easy for a year to go by.' For
the majority, a year had a farm-labor rhythm -- spinach to asparagus to
cherries to pears."

Author Robert Coles, Harvard University:
"A wonderful contribution to a growing documentary literature.  The
photographs are informative and powerfully evocative.  The text tells us so
very much about a particular segment of America's diverse population.  This
is a sociology and social history that is accessible, compelling and quite

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