Chinese immigrants first arrived in El Paso shortly before the Southern Pacific Railroad completed its line here in 1881. The earliest immigrants opened a rooming house and a grocery store. Soon afterwards, the U.S. Government passed the Chinese exclusion act (1882) which restricted Chinese immigration. However, enough Chinese remained to create a vibrant community throughout downtown El Paso. Into the early 1020's, El Paso's Chinese community was the largest in Texas.
The Chinese contributed to the area's economy largely by growing and selling fruits and vegetables for the local market, and by opening businesses, including laundries and restaurants. The mostly-male sojourners sent earnings to families in China, with the intention of returning home.
While retaining their native culture through language (most spoke the Toishonese Dialect), food, community associations and traditions, the newcomers also adopted area languages and customs. The immigrants experienced discrimination, but faced fewer problems here than did the Chinese in other parts of the United States.
Chinese continued to migrate to El Paso into the 20th century. During the Mexican Revolution, General John J. Pershing brought hundreds of Chinese into the United States for their protection from racial violence. They were legally allowed to immigrate following General Pershing's petition to Congress. The Chinese continued to immigrate to the city during the great depression of the 1930's. Another wave began in the late 1940's, prompted by the communist takeover of China. Today, Chinese El Pasoans continue to maintain a sense of community in the city they helped develop.