"Well, you'll be able to practice your Spanish."
"Hope you remember your Spanish from college!"
"I bet you'll get some great Mexican food!"
Those well-meaning individuals probably were thinking of Southern California. The Hispanic population makes up only 14% of San Francisco's population, while the Asian community makes up 30-35% (depending on what you read).
San Francisco houses the largest Chinese community outside China. Chinatown is a huge tourist attraction with over 300 restaurants and countless Asian markets. I personally strongly dislike Chinatown, not because of the Chinese people, but because I have an unreasonable aversion to tight cramped spaces and little toleration for slow walkers. Marc doesn't like it either. We try to stay away from Chinatown. Too many tourists and crowds.
Of course, San Francisco's Asian population consists of more than just the Chinese Americans. There are significant numbers of Japanese (San Francisco has a Japantown), Vietnamese, Korean, and combinations of them all.
San Francisco's Asian population started in the gold rush days of the mid-1800s. These immigrants were mostly Chinese and were basically slaves to the gold rush barons. The population continued to grow as families grew. The flow was set back some when California passed a law prohibiting the importation of Chinese, Japanese and "Mongolian" women for prostitution. Despite many efforts by Americans to limit or ban Asian immigration, the Asian community in San Francisco continued to grow. And unlike some other immigrants, these Asian newcomers almost always went through proper citizenship processes to become true Americans.
As you know, most large cities have a Chinatown - and these house not only Chinese people but Asians of all stripes. While the Chinatowns were formed as a natural process of people who speak the same language finding comfort in familiarity, they also came to be in response to a fierce racism directed at Asian peoples. While the South shunned blacks, the North was ostracizing Asians. This sentiment was accentuated during WWII, of course - California and surrounding states even took the liberty to put all the Japanese they could find into concentration camps in order to prevent more terrorism. Can you imagine if America did that to people of Middle Eastern heritage today?
All this to say - now San Francisco has a wealth of Asian culture. The Civic Center houses the Asian Art Museum.
The Civic Center is located near the Financial District and is a hub of activity. It also is the starting point for many festivals (SFPride Weekend). Unfortunately, since it is the center of much activity, the Civic Center is a stopping place for many of San Francisco's homeless. Please don't walk through alone at night.
I was hungry so I stopped in at the museum's restaurant - it's Asian, did you guess? I thoroughly enjoyed my meal of fried rice and steamed pork dumplings.
I think what I learn when I do things like visit the Asian Art Museum is that it doesn't matter if you know Chinese or care what they made or if you even like Chinese food at all. What matters is that we as Americans are not the only culture on earth. Sometimes we seem to expect people who become Americans to forget about their culture, traditions, and heritage and conform to our idea of an American. Sure, I would prefer to hear English clearly most of the time just like the next English-speaking individual. The point is, we need to remember that when immigrants brought their culture to America, those cultures formed us and are continuing to make America what it is today. We would be better Americans if we thought and learned outside of ourselves sometimes.
Here are some photos of the museum. They don't turn out too well because you aren't allowed to use flash and they keep the museum really dark.