13 May 08 | Sichuan, China Earthquake Relief

Obviously, the loss of life is beyond words and swift action must be taken to prevent further calamity. Although the preponderence of Chinese in the Chicagoland area are not Sichuanese in origin (in fact, from a completely different part of the country altogether) -- though I did see local news crews in the area yesterday seeking a local angle -- and the focus of our work is not Chinese in China, people are still looking to us for questions about where to donate aid. We cite the following organizations, who will make sure your aid gets to where it needs to go:

28 Apr 08 | The Red Line Accident

Was interviewed this morning by Joanie Lum on Ch 2 on my way to work, but not representing the Historical Society. First, obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to the injured and deceased. Two quick notes: I think that if one looks back to the era when the expressway was being constructed as it cuts through Chinatown, that there was considerable opposition to it at the time since Chinatown itself was already quite limited in space, and the construction of the expressway through Chinatown would limit it even further. Of course this is seen today in the frustrating rush hour traffic congestion at Cermak where the feeder ramp lets out, not to mention the very awkward way that Wentworth bends at Cermak and how Cermak traffic feeds to Clark and east towards McCormick Place. The other thing is clearly that as we approach the tourist season, the closure of the north entrance of the station may have a bit of a dampening effect, as it is much more convenient to enter and exit there, although, as of this morning trains were running relatively normally, it seemed to me.

26 Apr 08 | Segment on Chicago Tonight

Our segment from the WTTW Foods of Chicago show, which I think incorporates footage we didn't have in the DVD, is being shown tonight. You can catch it online here.

27 Nov 07 | Foods of Chicago, tonight, WTTW 11, 7:30PM and 10PM

foods of chicago

We've had the pleasure of working with Geoffrey Baer and his very talented crew of producers, cameramen, editors, and with the staff of the G. Bradley Publishing Company of St Louis, MO. to put together parts of the Chinese segment of the Foods of Chicago documentary premiering tonight as well as the companion cookbook. It runs again on December 3, 8, and 9th, and I clearly remember they were shooting in HD. Watch me, Gene Moy, and my host, "Auntie Yee" Jew, as we talk a bit about salted shrimp paste and Toisan/Four Counties (四邑) cooking, cooking of a folk that Elaine Sit, our VP, sometimes jokingly refers to as "the hill people."

For the special, we tried to pick out a dish that was simple and easy to make, but still give you a sense of the smells and tastes of Toisanese home cooking, since most people don't have access to steamer baskets or woks or deep fryers or things like that. We wanted something that wouldn't require someone to go and gather a long list of ingredients, but you'll need to make at least one trip to a Chinese grocery store, like Richwell Market in Morton Grove, or maybe Whole Grain Fresh Market in Westmont, or really any grocery in Chinatown. You could even substitute other kinds of shrimp pastes, like belacan, mam tom, bagoong alamang, terasi. Just remember to taste everything so you don't overdue it.

Interestingly, during the shoot for the cookbook, the photographer from the publisher came up and said, "So she must be a really famous chef in Chinatown, huh?" And we told her that no, Mrs. Jew is just someone's mom, someone's grandmother. She's not notorious or famous in any way. And in that sense I think we wanted to find someone who was completely just like you and me, trying to put food on the table for her family.

One of the most interesting things that happened during the video shoot was, Mrs Jew refused to eat what she'd cooked, and later told me, in those early days of migrant living, that was all that they had, so her family ate it practically every day. As a result, she refuses to even touch the stuff.

22 Nov 07 | Thanksgiving in Chinese Chicago, c. 1938

Every year at this time, I re-read this passage from Paul Siu’s remarkable PhD dissertation of 1953, the Chinese Laundryman: a Study of Social Isolation. Sometimes I get the sense that my colleagues, even within Asian American Studies, roll their eyes when I do this, but I’m not doing it for them. I read it because it reminds me — and now you too can share in this — of what life was like, during Chinese Exclusion, in Chicago, among my ancestors, in a time when everyone was dirt poor, so we had to send our menfolk to another country to work in menial labor, where they spent holidays far from the trappings of home, the warmth of friends and family. And even then when they got to this great country, where it was said that the streets were paved with gold, we were limited in what opportunities were available to us, where we could live and work, even just the right to be in this country, whose golden door was not lit, specifically just for us. And so it reminds me that there’s something to be thankful for, as we gather again around the table, in Chicago Chinatown, with all of our relatives, no longer living under Exclusion, no longer being relegated to living above a laundry, being free to enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship, and not having only the choices of restaurant or laundry work.

"Just eat it once a year, " Chan Sing remarked while he held a piece of turkey meat between his chopsticks. "It is a good thing — just like our Chinese festivals. Since we are in this country, we like to eat turkey, too, although it is not our own custom."

I told him Thanksgiving was not merely eating turkey.

"Well," he said, "if the American give thanks for their good life — but only Chinese Christians believe in God. . . ."

"Whenever the Americans have a holiday, they can really enjoy it. They have family and relatives and friends, men and women, boys and girls. They have lots of places to go. A holiday means something to them. That means to have a real good time. What can a Chinese immigrant do? Nothing. He can only go down to Chinatown. A holiday is just like any other day. That means some of the gamblers lose more money on the gambling tables.

"Americans are different. They have parties at home, with friends and relatives. They enjoy some good music and have some fun together. We can have the same thing in China, yes, but not here.

"Eat turkey does not mean anything since everyone eats Turkey today; we too eat it, that’s all."

. . .[T]he laundryman misses his Old World festivals. Eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day means to have something of a substitute. To be sure, both on Christmas and on Thanksgiving Day he can close his laundry shop for a holiday because his customers are celebrating and would not come for their laundry. On the days of Chinese festivals, however, he is too busy to celebrate or has actually forgotten about them. He participates in some American institutions because he is just as human as the others.

– Paul C. P. Siu, the Chinese Laundryman: a Study of Social Isolation (1953)

19 Jun 07 | Justice for Vincent Chin, justice for ourselves

Vincent Chin

Each year on this day, we remember a man of absolutely no notoriety or acclaim. Like millions of other Americans, he would have been married, with children. A home in the suburbs, whose lawn is grudgingly cultivated on Saturday mornings in good weather. Weekend and holiday dinners with parents and the babies. Commutes. Traffic. Birthday parties, music lessons, soccer for the kids. Annual super bowl parties. Summer vacations. Sending the children off to college. Arguing with them about piercings, tattoos, being an English major instead of taking up a good solid engineering degree. Graduation. Seeing them move out, then back in. Arguments. Illnesses. Reconciliation. Perhaps pride and grandfatherhood would have been ahead, maybe early retirement given the state of the auto industry today. A life in all its richness, all the joys, the ennui, the despondency.

The fact is we will never know how he would have lived, because 25 years ago tonight, Vincent Chin lay dying in the parking lot of a McDonalds in suburban Detroit, his skull caved in by a baseball bat. He'd been murdered by two white men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who killed him because they had heeded the constant harangues of demogogues like Lee Iacocca, the chairman of Chrysler, where they had worked, who had told them as he closed plants and laid off workers, they were out of work because of the Japanese, and Vincent Chin represented to them, in their words, all those "little motherf*ckers." It didn't matter to them if he had grown up here, maybe even worked in the auto industry like they did, or was Chinese, he was Legion, and four bone-crushing, brain-splattering swings later, nothing really mattered any more, except the answer to the question, what is to be done now?

As brutal as his murder was, we don't commemorate that event as a community so much as what happened afterwards.

Nitz and Ebens would serve no jail time for the crime. During sentencing, they were given three years probation, fined $3000 and ordered to pay $780 in court costs.

In response, the local Asian American community rallied, inexperienced as they were, forming American Citizens for Justice. The nation stirred. A federal civil rights suit followed, finding Ebens guilty, but the verdict was overturned. A civil suit followed where Ebens and Nitz settled for $1.5m to be paid to Chin's estate. Before the verdict could be handed down, however, Ebens placed his assets in his wife's name and fled, allegedly vowing that Chin's surviving family member, his mother Lily, would never see the money.

His mother was haunted by her son's senseless and brutal death. After that first, abortive trial, she was quoted as saying,

"What kind of law is this? What kind of justice? This happened because my son is Chinese. If two Chinese killed a white person, they must go to jail, maybe for their whole lives... Something is wrong with this country."

Disgusted by what we called justice in this country, in 1987, she left Oak Park, MI, her home of 40 years, for the province of Guangdong in China, where she dedicated herself to public service, until she returned here in 2002 for medical treatment. She died days before the 20th anniversary of his death.

When Lily Chin died a few years ago, I remember thinking it was almost as if we had not moved forward since People v. Hall. I consider Ebens a fugitive from justice, as he has failed to acknowledge his wrongdoing. But what is justice? Is justice hunting down and beating Ebens with a baseball bat while shouting racial epithets at him, as he did to Vincent Chin? What justice does it serve to the Chins, to Vincent's fiancee, if Ebens were now to be tracked down and imprisoned? Is justice nothing more than some pithy spoken word piece, delivered with the appropriate indignance before a crowd of similar thinkers; a community forum; a movie shown over and over again to bored, diffident undergraduate classes, many of whom to this day haven't heard of the movement's emergence in the late 1960s and early 1970s or, for that matter, ever lived anywhere else or know the conditions in places other than their own neighborhoods? Is this all we can do?

Any justice now has arrived too late for Vincent and Lily Chin who seem to have been canonized as latter-day martyrs and saints of the Asian American movement. Maybe it is true in the sense that when Vincent Chin died, we died as "orientals" and were reborn as "Asian Americans." Are we better off today than we were 25 years ago? After all, we have organizations, some of whom track anti-Asian violence, we have a framework for dealing with hate crime violence, we are at least twice the size we were in 1982, we are connected, organized. But if we are, is it because of Vincent and Lily Chin, or is it because of what America told us our lives were worth after he was slain and what we did as an American people after that? Today I think there is room for both. On this day, we mourn for Vincent and Lily Chin and their tremendous loss to their loved ones. On this day, we remember our emergence into our own.

19 Jun - 04 Aug 06 | Center for Asian Arts & Media @ Columbia College

CCAHS VP Elaine Sit worked on this exhibit with Nancy Tom, who both have very long local restaurant family histories, so I'm sure it will be a level of magnitude better than anything else out there. The Center for Asian Arts and Media proudly presents "Rice, Chopsticks and the Melting Pot: Asian American Restaurants in Chicago." Through a selection of photographs, menus, dishes and documents, the exhibit examines the evolution of Asian restaurants in Chicago and explores how different Asian cuisines were introduced, adapted and fused into American food culture. Location: C33 Gallery (33 Congress Pkwy, Congress & Wabash). Admission: free and open to the public. Contact: Yuchia Chang. Phone: 312/344-8213.

21 May 06 | Great Places & Spaces Tour

For the City of Chicago's Office of Special Events and along with the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, we conducted our 4th annual Great Places & Spaces Tour. Great weather meant we escaped the rain that affected three out of the last four tours!

11 May 06 | University of Chicago

As part of PanAsia's celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage, we discussed notions of authenticity, images, objects, and Asian Americans with UC students in an intimate forum.

05 Dec 05 | Frommer's

We spoke with Carrie Havranek, a writer for Frommer's online travel guide, in this two-part article on Chinatowns and New Year Celebrations: Part I , Part II.

08 Oct 05 | Branching Out the Banyan Tree

In our Saturday session, we'll be presenting our evidence for the reasons why two Chinatowns in Chicago emerged in the early decades of the last century. Thanks to David Wong, a student at Whitney Young, who helped us mine the data for this presentation.

22 May 05 | Chicago Cultural Center

Along with our partner, the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, we'll be conducting our third annual Great Chicago Places & Spaces walking tour of Chinatown on Sunday, 22 May, at 11AM.

20 May 05 | Chicago Public Radio

We recently were featured prominently in a story by Ben Calhoun on Chicago Chinatown on WBEZ's 848. Here's the link (requires RealAudio Player).

07 May 05 | Village of Park Forest, IL

In celebration of Asian American Heritage Month, we presented our "magic lantern show" to over 20 people on a summer-like Saturday evening at the Tall Grass Arts Gallery in downtown Park Forest.

23 Apr 05 | Association for Asian American Studies Conference
Los Angeles, CA

At the largest annual gathering for Asian American Studies, we presented preliminary research findings on methodologies used to reveal patterns in the Chicago Chinese Exclusion case files based on research done by CCAHS President Gene Moy for his MA project at UCLA. Among those in attendance: Dr. Munson Kwok, of the Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles, who we had the pleasure of meeting again for the first time in some years.

01 Apr 05 | Organization of American Historians Conference
San Francisco, CA

At the annual convention of the OAH -- the largest learned society devoted to the study of American history -- we had the honor of representing the Midwest at a special off-site panel discussion on Comparative Chinatowns, but specifically Chinese American museums, historical societies, and their publics, held at the historic former site of the Chinatown YWCA, now home to the Chinese Historical Society of America. Featured were the Chinese Historical Society of British Columbia, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation/Museum of Chinese in the Americas, and the Chinese Historical Society of America. Madeleine Hsu, of SFSU, was the discussant.