Tunnels under Chinatown: racist or reality?

There’s nothing more enthralling than discovering hidden tunnels and secret passageways, especially if you’re an archeologist. Likewise for tourists, sometimes the most exciting part of a city is what lies beneath it.

And that’s why everyone is so excited in the California town of Fresno where a team of archeologists are currently hot on the trail of an urban legend: underground Chinatown. It has been rumored for years that an extensive network of tunnels used to exist under this part of Fresno, extensive enough that residents could travel the entire length of Chinatown without ever surfacing.

After a recent discovery of a crawlspace in one of the basements, the city is finally taking the rumors seriously and has hired engineers and archeologists to probe the area with ground-penetrating radar. If this legendary network of tunnels is ever found, you can expect a very cool tourist attraction to be added to a town that is normally just a stopping point for gas on the way to the Sierras.

What I found truly fascinating from the LA Times article which covered this story, is that rumors of tunnels under any city’s Chinatown are actually quite common and, in fact, very racist. Activists claim that tunnel rumors stretch back to the late 19th century when xenophobic westerners viewed the Chinese railway workers as mysterious, secretive, and undoubtedly engaged in bizarre, vice-filled activities that were hidden from public view underneath the street of the city.