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Where EAST meets the Northwest

GRAVE OVERSIGHT. Come Together Home, director Ivy Linís documentary retracing the final journey of disinterred remains of early Chinese immigrants from Portlandís Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery to Hong Kong, is screening December 4 at Portland State Universityís Fifth Avenue Cinema. (Photos courtesy of Ivy Lin)

From The Asian Reporter, V19, #46 (November 24, 2009), page 9.

Portland filmmaker unravels story of Chinese graves at Lone Fir Cemetery

Come Together Home

Directed and produced by Ivy Lin

Screening December 4 at 7:00pm

at Portland State Universityís Fifth Avenue Cinema

By Allison Voigts

As documentary filmmaker Ivy Linís camera traces the afternoon shadows falling through the trees of Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery in southeast Portland, a haunting folk song plays: "Send your pay with the steamships on the bay. Work your fingers till they falter, yet the job is never done Ö Cold winds blow through your bones, through your bones."

The bones are those of early Chinese immigrants to Portland who were buried, forgotten, and covered by a county building and parking lot that stood over some of the graves until 2005. Linís new documentary, Come Together Home, tells the story of Block 14, the Chinese section of Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery, and how the bones that still occupy it were rediscovered after half a century.

The cemetery, which was founded in 1855, is Portlandís oldest and contains 25,000 graves, including many of the cityís founders and notable personalities. Nearly 1,500 of the graves belonged to anonymous Chinese laborers, who usually paid a deposit to ensure their remains would be disinterred and shipped back to their hometowns in China 15 to 20 years after burial.

Two mass disinterments took place in the Chinese block at Lone Fir ó one in 1928 and one in 1949 ó and the exhumed remains were sent to Hong Kong for the deceasedís relatives to claim. But county records for the cemetery, which listed the dead as "Chinaman" rather than by name, failed to give an accurate count of the number of Chinese buried there.

For years, rumors persisted in the neighborhood around S.E. 20th Avenue and S.E. Morrison Street that bodies remained underneath the Multnomah County building in the southwest corner of the cemetery. In 2004, The Oregonian began investigating these tales, leading to a ground-penetrating radar scan of the area that suggested the truth. The countyís plans to sell the area to condominium developers came to a halt, and an excavation took place.

Excavators revealed 14 graves in Block 14, most of them belonging to babies and young girls. Chinese burial logs maintained by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) contained little information on the remains, except for the directions "Do Not Remove." While the reasons for these instructions are unclear, local historians believe the Chinese may have kept the bones from being disinterred with the rest in 1949.

In a second thread of the story, Lin also tracks the remains that were returned to Hong Kong. After the Communist government closed the borders to the mainland in 1949, the last shipment of bones sat in storage at the Tung Wah Coffin Home for more than a decade. By travelling to Hong Kong and sifting through archived records, Lin (who herself emigrated from Taiwan 20 years ago) discovers the final resting place of Lone Firís exhumed remains.

Though the interviews in Come Together Home efficiently build tension early on, they seem to run unnecessarily long in the final half hour as the narrative moves from primary sources such as Brent Walth, who broke The Oregonian story about the forgotten graves, and a historian at the Tung Wah Coffin Home to a demonstration on cleaning gravestones and a detailed description of a memorial design for Block 14.

Nonetheless, this melancholy and intriguing documentary proves to be a third success for Lin, whose previous two films, Knowing All of You Like I Do and Pig Roast & Tank of Fish, explored a closed Portland record store and Portlandís Chinatown, respectively.

Come Together Home is screening at 7:00pm on Friday, December 4 at Fifth Avenue Cinema, located at 510 S.W. Hall Street in Portland. The screening is followed by a question-and-answer session with Lin. For more information, or to buy tickets, call (503) 725-3551 or visit <www.5thavenuecinema.org>.