SaddleBrooke Nature Club learns about Chinese grocery history in Tucson


Dan Chase

Members of the SaddleBrooke Nature Club were given an informational presentation by Julia Arriola, Museum Curator for the Arizona History Museum, on the history of Chinese Grocery businesses at the April club meeting. In the early 20th century Chinese immigrants settling in Tucson leased land on which to grow crops and to sell the produce from horse drawn wagons. The traveling groceries vended all over Tucson and as far away as Eloy.

At the height of these ever-expanding enterprises there existed over one hundred small family owned stores throughout the city. They were selling in neighborhoods that had groceries literally, in a stone’s throw from one another.

The stores were small and the inventory was most the same in each grocery.

As a follow-up to the program presented by Ms. Arriola members ventured to the Mission Gardens on Mission Lane in Tucson and were met by Kendall Kroesen, Director of the Garden. It was here that club members discovered what crops were grown by the Chinese farmers and why the area was such a fertile location to do their farming.

On the same day as the tour of the Mission Garden, members then traveled to the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center to hear Dr. Howard Eng give a more detailed account of what it was like growing up in his family run grocery. Dr. Eng told how grocery owners offered credit for purchases by patrons. Many families in the neighborhood were poor and had only small budgets to work with each week for groceries. The code of honor did exist and debtors eventually paid their debts with no interest ever charged.

Susan Chan, Director of the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center, made the visit more interesting as she arranged for senior members of the center to demonstrate the exercise of Tai Chi, which is noted for keeping the body fit by strengthening the core and improving balance. Our visit to the center was concluded with a prepared luncheon, which all enjoyed.

The next club meeting is on June 11, 2018. Starting time is 4:00 in the Coyote Room of SaddleBrooke One. The presenter is Bernard Siquieros whose topic is the Tohono O’odham culture and history.