That restaurant, that building, that place, was the beginning of all of us.
That was where we all came from.
—ernesto tirona maBaLon
n my most painful memory of Stockton’s Little Manila, it is
18, 1999, and I am standing in front of the brick building
that once housed the Lafayette Lunch Counter, watching the
press conference and demolition kickoff festivities for the Gate-
way Project. In a struggle that a local journalist compared with
some irony to the almost decade- long effort to demolish the block,
City Council members took almost a dozen swings with a cere-
monial, gold- painted sledgehammer to break a piece of glass hung
on one of the walls of the buildings to signal the beginning of the
demolition. The council member who finally succeeded in break-
ing the glass was Vice Mayor Gloria Nomura, whose family had
lived in the Little Manila area and owned a pool hall there be-
fore World War II. The Redevelopment Agency had dubbed this
project the Gateway Project, as the block was in front of the down-
town exit from Interstate 5 and was thus the gateway to Stock-
ton. The project displaced dozens of elderly and poor residents
and replaced the block’s residential hotels, restaurants, and gro-
cery stores with a McDonald’s and a Union 76 gas station. The city
poured $4 million into the project to try to resurrect the moribund
It seemed that no one in Stockton had remembered the trage-
dies of the 1960s West End Redevelopment Project and the Cross-
town Freeway demolitions. When this block was targeted for clear-
ance and redevelopment in the mid- 1990s, it was one of the last
CoMing hoMe to LittLe ManiLa
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