Lesson Plan

Locke and Walnut Grove: Havens for Early Asian Immigrants in California

Chinese Mason Building, River Road elevation, Walnut Grove

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.1, 6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.6, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.8, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 6; Curriculum Standards for Social Studies from the National Council for the Social Studies (See lesson plan PDF for details)
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

How did Chinese and Japanese immigrants develop California's industry and culture?


1. Explain the contribution of early Asian immigrants to the development of California's agricultural industries.
2. Describe the obstacles encountered by Asian cultural groups as they struggled to make a living and find a place in American society.
3. Describe life in Walnut Grove and Locke during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
4. Analyze the condition and status of early Asian immigrants.
5. Report on ethnic enclaves that made contributions to the history of the students' community.


Time Period: Late 19th century to early 20th century
Topics: The lesson could be used in units on immigration or on multiculturalism in America. The lesson also could be used to enhance the study of Asian American history.


Nestled at a slight bend along the narrow River Road and overshadowed by tall, drooping trees, Walnut Grove lies mid-way between Sacramento and Stockton in northern California. Also fronting the Sacramento River, one mile to the north of Walnut Grove, is Locke, a small, peaceful community settled by people who had earlier lived in Walnut Grove.

The river was once a major thoroughfare for shipping agricultural products to markets across the country. Today, only excursion boats and houseboats share its waters. River Road parallels the bends of the Sacramento River on its eastern side and, like the river, still carries some traffic between San Francisco and Sacramento in Northern California, but like the other narrow roads that once connected the communities with larger cities, it has been largely bypassed by travelers, who favor the quicker freeways and interstate highways that crisscross the region.

Here, in the Sacramento County delta area, where the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers converge, the history of the once bustling Chinatowns and nihonmachi's (Japan towns) can still be seen in buildings constructed some 50 to a 100 years ago. Store signs in Chinese and in Japanese still advertise the Dai Loy Gambling House, the Hayashi Company Store, and other places that once provided services to the immigrant agricultural workers who began their American experience in the Sacramento Delta.

Lesson Hook/Preview

Both Chinese and Japanese immigrants faced much hostility and discrimination when they came to America. Rooted in nativism and racial prejudice, the discrimination against the Chinese in California was encouraged by politicians and labor leaders. Mid-19th-century Chinese immigrants were driven out of the mining fields, but were then recruited to build railroads and to reclaim swamps. When those jobs were completed, they were expected to go back to China, but many stayed on, hoping eventually to earn enough money to retire to their native villages and live comfortably with their families.

Beginning in the 1860s, California and many of its cities passed anti-Chinese laws, and in 1882 Congress passed the first of the so-called Chinese Exclusion Acts. The first act suspended immigration of Chinese laborers to the U.S. for 10 years, permitted laborers already in the U.S. to remain, and permitted entry of students, teachers, merchants, and government officials, but excluded the Chinese from U.S. citizenship. The act was later extended in 1888 to prohibit Chinese laborers from re-entering the U.S. after leaving. The act was made "permanent" in 1904. The Immigration Act of 1924 went even further, establishing an immigrant quota of two percent of the number of foreign-born persons of that nationality resident in the U.S. in 1890 and ruled that no alien ineligible to become a citizen shall be admitted to the U.S. as an immigrant.

The Japanese also endured discrimination which was reflected in a "Gentlemen's Agreement" accepted by the Japanese and American governments in 1907. The agreement called for Japan to stop the emigration of its laborers to the U.S. by refusing to issue passports to such persons. In return, the U.S. government was to refrain from passing laws officially excluding Japanese immigrants. This arrangement, however, did allow for family unification--that is, Japanese men in America could send for their wives and children. Other men married by proxy, meaning that the women could travel to this country to meet and live with the bridegrooms they had never before seen. About 20,000 Japanese women came to America through this practice. The agreement was then suspended in 1924 by the Immigration Act which excluded immigration from Japan and practically barred all Asians from entering the United States.

During these unpredictable times, the Chinese and Japanese grouped together for companionship and survival, forming ethnic enclaves known as Chinatowns and nihonmachi's (Japan towns). For those laborers who were able to immigrate to the U.S., the Chinese benevolent societies helped them with passage to America, assisted them in finding jobs and housing, and provided recreation. The Japanese government offered similar services through Japanese officials stationed in several western American cities.

Although these Asian immigrants endured forceful discrimination, they proved among the most successful in overcoming great obstacles and making a good life for themselves in a new land. Two communities that demonstrate the experiences of early Asian immigrants and their struggle to find a place in American society are Locke and Walnut Grove, California. Located near the junction of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, these towns became a central area for immigrant agricultural workers in the Delta region


Getting Started Prompt 
Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.


Sacramento Delta
Chinese Exclusion Acts
Immigration Quota

Additional Resources

By looking at Locke and Walnut Grove, students can understand the experience of early Asian immigrants and the obstacles they encountered as they struggled to make a living and find a place in American society. Those interested in learning more will find that the Internet offers a variety of materials.

Locke, California
Visit the town's website to find out more about the history of Locke and visitation information. Included on the site are details on some of the historic sites such as the Dai Loy Museum and a quick fact sheet outlining the history of Locke and its Asian community.

National Park Service

  • The National Register of Historic Places' feature, Celebrating Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, showcases historic properties listed in the National Register and National Park units highlighting the rich heritage of Asian and Pacific peoples in America.

  • The National Parks History website offers an on-line book titled FIVE VIEWS: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Office of Historic Preservation. This fabulous resource provides chapters on the history of Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans in California. Topics covered include immigration, settlement, discrimination, and much more. Also, discover what National Parks are associated with Asian American Ethnic Heritage on the History website feature titled, "Historical Themes in America."

Library of Congress
Search the Library of Congress's American Memory website for their collection of materials on Locke, California from the Historic American Building Survey. Included is an extensive photograph collection documenting the architecture of Locke. Further searches on the American Memory website for information on Japanese Americans provides details of the evacuation and relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II.

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Search the National Archives and Records Administration for their collection of materials on Japanese Americans. Included is detailed information relating to the internment of Japanese Americans. Further searches on the NARA for information on Chinese Americans reveals, among other things, a compilation of records titled "Chinese Immigration and Chinese in the United States."

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
The USCIS website provides a number of historical research tools.

Chinese American History
The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, has assembled a time line outlining events in Chinese American history. Included in the time line are many legislative statutes that pertain to Chinese American history.

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Last updated: September 18, 2018