I was in the middle of a pandemic when I learned about Chinese chorizo, a hidden and historical food that stems from the forgotten legacy of over 100 Chinese grocery stores that once existed in my hometown of Tucson. I was having a midlife crisis at the time.
Twenty years ago, I lived in New York City — a long, successful, and sometimes glamorous career in fashion that was stalling. When the pandemic hit, I took a giant leap and became the Executive His Chef at a restaurant in downtown Manhattan.i left immediately like a bear A situation in which you indecisively proceed with what crosses in front of you.
With little to lose, Tucson has become my Walden. The less traveled road I chose is Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts, found by chance in the scroll of fate at midnight. Somehow I was awarded this prestigious grant. I proposed building a cheeky 11-foot-tall large-scale mosaic public sculpture of his two-piece Chinese chorizo, and laid loose plans for Tucson’s Chinese Chorizo Festival.
The story of Chinese chorizo will soon find new life in me.
My Chinese family wasn’t part of the essential grocery store that serves as a community center on Tucson’s south side, but as immigrants, I’m a relic of the synophobic immigration policy endured by early Chinese immigrants in America. I was facing
In the late 1800s, early Chinese immigrants came to Tucson seeking refuge from the targeted and brutal violence taking place in densely populated Asian cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Exploited at wages 30 to 50% lower than British immigrants, Chinese immigrants found themselves in heavy-duty jobs such as railroad construction, mining and agriculture. They built the infrastructure that facilitated America’s western expansion and put America at the forefront of industrialization. Strategically accused of stealing jobs, they were branded as a barbarian race instead of being credited for their work.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act made Chinese immigration illegal until 1943. However, certain classes of Chinese men were allowed to remain in China, such as teachers, merchants, and ambassadors. Anti-racism laws made interracial marriage illegal, and an early Page Act of 1875 prohibited Chinese women from entering the country, making it almost impossible for these select few Chinese to start families. Now possible.
Tucson became a safe haven for early Chinese. They were able to find a community in Mexican hospitality. They lived in low-income neighborhoods or barrios south of Tucson with predominantly Mexican, Indigenous, and black families.These parts of town are home to historic renovated million dollar homes and Tucson Convention Center stand now
With the support of this community, the Chinese were able to build over 100 Chinese-owned grocery stores by 1950. These stores became the backbone of the Tucson community. They spoke Spanish and indigenous languages, and carried key Mexican ingredients to meet the needs of their communities. Chinese chorizo was made with whatever was available at any of these grocery stores. End cuts such as bologna, hot dogs, and stale meats were made by a fusion of red wine, vinegar, and various Mexican chili and spices. It has become a highly demanded item.
Perhaps the most important thing Chinese grocers offered was credit that could provide essential necessities to communities during difficult times. El Charo Cafe chef Carlotta Flores Her family told me they would get the groceries they needed for the day on credit, do the work for the day, and pay for the groceries later that night.
Nancy Fongwas a local realtor who worked and lived behind his parents’ grocery store. T&T Market 2048 S. 6th Avenue, ages 9 and up. Her family sold the business and purchased her basket from the Fong family. She watched her father make Chinese chorizo.
“My father knew the customers and their children who came in. And he gave credit,” Fung said. All I had to do was sign in a book with the amount of groceries on it and I came back the next month with a check to pay for it.It was just a family business. , my father even gave free deliveries when we needed them.Customers loved him.”
Customers would sometimes bring in tamales as a thank you. This close-knit community fostered an intimate mutualism not often found in many modern consumer transactions.
I was deeply moved to learn that such strong ties in the community continue to this day. Ben Forbes from Forbes Meat CompanyForbes and his staff helped produce over 600 pounds of Chinese Chorizo for this year’s inaugural Tucson Chinese Chorizo Festival.
“I am so grateful to be able to give you what this community has given me,” Forbes told me.
Eight years after losing his job and getting divorced, he explained, “I literally lost everything, like I had nothing… I had nothing.” Ben lived on his stamp in the hood, father of two girls. When he got to Tucson, he told Forbes, “Every chef in the community brought me in,” and he remembered when he moved to Tucson. “It was a dark and painful time…but it was a coincidence.”
In times of crisis like this, I remain disarmed and touched by the enthusiasm, generosity and supportive nature of the local community that fuels the story of this lost America.
The life that early Chinese immigrants were given was much like the raw material scraps of the original Chinese chorizo. make
In Part 2, hear what Tucson families have to say about Chinese chorizo, their thoughts on the festival, the restaurants participating in the festival, and the food featured at the festival.
Tucson Chinese Chorizo Festival
Throughout October, multiple restaurants have joined as official destinations to celebrate Chinese chorizo in partnership with Tucson Foodie. With one weekend left, seven restaurants will receive two £15 Chinese Chorizos.
How you prepare your food is up to your chef, and how many destinations you visit every Friday to Sunday is up to you.
For more information, see our October 2022 article, Multiple Restaurants Participate in First-ever Tucson Chinese Chorizo Festival.