Monday, March 30, 2015
If one asks people in Mexicali, Mexico, just across the border from Calexico in the Imperial Valley of California, about their most notable regional cuisine, they won’t say street tacos or mole. They’ll say Chinese food. There are as many as 200 Chinese restaurants in the city. North of the border, in Imperial County, the population is mostly Latino, but Chinese restaurants are packed. There are dishes in this region you won’t find anywhere else, and a history behind them that goes back more than 130 years.
There’s a specific legal reason for all of this, according to Professor Robert Chao Romero, author of The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940 (2010) “The restaurants you see now are remnants of the Chinese population that used to fill the U.S./Mexico borderlands in Mexicali and in Baja California,” he says. Romero teaches in both the Chicano Studies and Asian American Studies departments at UCLA. “The Chinese started to go to Mexico after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in the United States,” he says. Many Chinese immigrants later came to the United States.