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Where EAST meets the Northwest

BEYOND THE GATE. "Beyond the Gate: A Tale of Portlandís Historic Chinatowns," a display of rare and seldom-seen objects such as Chinese opera costumes, theatrical sets, interactive visitor stations, and more that tell a sprawling transnational story of contact and trade between China and the west, is on view through June 21 at the Oregon Historical Society Museum. Pictured are Chinese stores at Southwest Second and Alder, circa 1885. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, #bb002410)

From The Asian Reporter, V26, #9 (May 2, 2016), pages 12 & 15.

"Beyond the Gate: A Tale of Portlandís Historic Chinatowns" highlights Portlandís hidden history

By Kate Hubbard
The Asian Reporter

The Oregon Historical Society (OHS) Museum presents us with well-curated collections. Now through June 21, Oregonians and visitors to the museum are in for a treat. In addition to "Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion," a travelling exhibit currently on view, there is also "Beyond the Gate: A Tale of Portlandís Historic Chinatowns," a display focusing on the unique and interesting history of the area and its inhabitants.

It works well, how OHS organizes their exhibits. They weave you in, enticing you with fascinating bits of history. The displays are richly sensorial and varied, from the sumptuous example of the home of a prosperous man to the image of Portlandís Chinatown gate when it was fresh and new.

In 1869, there were just 500 Chinese living in Portland. By 1900, it was the second-largest Chinatown in the country, behind San Francisco. Portlandís Chinatown was initially built on Second Avenue between Burnside and Jefferson and only later moved. OHSís display allows visitors to experience some of the sights, sounds, and visual interest of this usually hidden part of our cityís history. The exhibit will enrich your life and expose views of the city that some may not have known existed. It fires the imagination and gives insight into the people who formed Portlandís Chinatowns.

In order to understand Portlandís Chinatowns, it helps to learn about the history of the arrival of Chinese people in the area. The displays introduce museum-goers to how China, America, and Europe first started to interact. A journey to America from China would have been time consuming (especially by modern aviation standards), perilous, and expensive in the 19th century ó needing strong motivation to risk it. How did that start?

It began 800 years before the internet, when Marco Poloís journey of discovery over the Silk Road in the 13th century brought tales of tea, silks, opulence, and the wealth of China to Europe. Europe responded by launching into the Age of Discovery. Generations of explorers still compete to cover every last corner of the planet.

While walking through the exhibit, visitors learn about the arrival of the first American ship to reach Guangzhou (Canton City) in the 1700s and how trade began between China and North America. How when news of the American gold rush hit Hong Kong in 1849, it spread like wildfire. Men left their homes in search of Gam Saan, or "Gold Mountain," as America was called.

The Chinese who landed on American shores joined an international multicultural flow of settlers. They worked in numerous industries, becoming a vital and important part of their new country. They built roads, fished, farmed, mined, laid railroad track, logged, and worked in factories, mills, canneries, and as domestic workers.

Despite the Chinese exclusion laws and attempting to persevere in the face of violent racism, despite being largely excluded from history books, Chinese Americans have contributed a wealth of history, knowledge, and hard work to America. This exhibit focuses attention on who they were, what they did, and how they carved out their own thriving community in the fertile Willamette Valley city.

Who gets to write history? Who decides whatís recorded and deemed important enough to teach to future generations? Everyone has a story, and "Beyond the Gate: A Tale of Portlandís Historic Chinatowns" shares some that are an integral part of our history ó as Portlanders, as Oregonians, as Americans, as humans.

The Oregon Historical Society is devoted to bringing to life the variety of experiences that have helped form our state. From the impressive archives and extensive collections of historic photographs, to the community outreach and regular events, OHS shares the stories that arenít always told. This is our history, and itís important. Be sure you take some time to check out the exhibit before it closes ó itís well worth it.

"Beyond the Gate: A Tale of Portlandís Historic Chinatowns" is on view through June 21. The museum, which is located at 1200 S.W. Park Avenue in Portland, is open daily ó 10:00am to 5:00pm Monday through Saturday and noon to 5:00pm on Sunday. Admission to the museum is free for Multnomah County residents and Oregon school groups. For more information, call (503) 222-1741 or visit <>.

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