From July 20 – 26, the Wing Luke Museum will host an interstate trip that will explore Chinese American history first-hand as experienced by the pioneering Chinese immigrants in the American West. The time periods covered in the tour will span from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.
Starting in Seattle, where a pre-event dinner will be held featuring the eating practices of early Chinese American settlers, the trip will continue to Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada, where participants will learn about the early history of Chinese Americans as they built communities all throughout the American West.
The idea for the trip was inspired by Dale Hom, who worked in forest services for many years. The current trip is actually the second time Hom has initiated a heritage tour. The Wing Luke’s Program Director Cassie Chinn, says, “I was able to go on that tour and it was a great experience to connect to my heritage and roots.”
Regarding the inspiration for the project, Chinn reflects: “Hom initiated it the first go-around, and he also knew that a lot of work had been done to bring more individuals to the sites. I credit him for getting people to know about these sites, to increase awareness, and to grow the next generation.”
The purpose of reviving the trip, Chinn reiterates, is to develop more awareness of the contributions early Chinese Americans made to the broader American story. As mining was a major occupation for many Chinese immigrants, various mining sites will be included on the itinerary that will capture the experience of the miners in several locations.
Chinn says, “With this tour we’re excited to bring Asian Americans to these heritage sites, and others to learn alongside with them and share their stories and journey. The tour also forms the basis for a website that we’re working on and even if there’s not a planned bus tour people will be able to explore on their own.”
One major highlight of the trip is a visit to Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum. Located in John Day, Oregon, the museum features the story of two young immigrants, Ing Hay and Lung On, as they maintain a general store, an herbal doctor’s office, and a venue for social gatherings. As a part of Oregon State Parks, the building has been remarkably preserved to showcase the intricate details of the life of early Chinese American immigrants in the Northwest.
Being in close proximity to where early immigrants lived and worked allows participants to engage history in a palpably human way. Chinn states that being able to encounter these sites firsthand makes for an experience rich in sensory detail.
“Some highlights include being able to go out to original mining sites, walk the pathways, and touch the stones that the pioneers were working on a hundred years ago.”
Chinn mentions that the tour will be of interest to many age groups.
“It’s great being able to bring multiple generations together so we can learn from one another,” said Chinn.
Wing Luke’s Exhibits Developer Joshua Heim directs the youth-oriented aspect of the tour. “We have five youth heritage tour interns. They are a mix of first- generation and those who have immigrated with their families. There are also [members of the] 1.5 generation coming—those who were born abroad but who came to America as young children, all Chinese American.”
Though the registration period for the tour has ended, the trip will be documented on video and will also be featured online. “We are bringing a video crew to document the trip and share the experience with others,” said Chinn. The tour can be accessed at https://twitter.com/ChineseHrtgTour.
In addition, for those who would like to participate but are unable to join the tour proper, people can still get a preliminary taste of the tour by attending the pre-event dinner, which is open to all. The dinner, entitled “Pig’s Feet, Olives, Watermelon Seed: Chinese American Food of the 1880s,” will be held on July 19 at the Four Seas Restaurant, just across the street from the Wing Luke Museum. Information regarding the event can be accessed at www.Wingluke.org/events/upcoming.htm. Or read the preview article for the dinner in this issue, “History in the Baking”.