Something we hear a lot these days: Seattle is the gateway to the Pacific.
Now many of us have the impression that Seattle’s interest in Asia is a relatively new development, something that is only a few decades old.
However, when the staff at Northwest Asian Weekly first learned about the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE) Centennial Celebration Symposium, which took place last weekend, we were surprised to learn that it was commemorating a world’s fair in 1909, a fair which presented the cultures of Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and Hawaiians.
It is a little mind-boggling for us to think of what it must have been like for Asians to be in America at the turn of the century — how different and difficult it must have been compared to how we exist in society today.
It’s important to shed light on this overlooked piece of history. The Asian cultural presence in the 1909 exposition was a hit at the time. Unfortunately, it made little progress in changing society toward more equalized relations between whites and Asians.
In 1909, the exposition’s planning committee only had one Asian on it: Masajiro Furuya, a local, prominent banker, merchant, and manufacturer. He was a visionary community organizer at the time, a vital bridge between the local Japanese community and the government of Japan.
One of our staff attended the symposium over the weekend and said that it was very painful to listen to the presentations about the 1909 exposition because she learned how unwelcoming people were to Asians.
In the history books about the exposition, many authors have deliberately ignored and omitted the contributions of Asians. There is currently very little information on the topic. Local newspapers at the time scarcely reported on the Asian cultural presence.
As a consequence, many researchers at the symposium had a really tough time digging up facts. We commend them for their hard work because they are now making history more accurate.
We also commend Chuimei Ho and husband Ben Bronson for organizing the symposium. This symposium helped us to learn about the real past. It will also help us reestablished how we, as Asians and Asian Americans, view ourselves.
Perhaps some of us still feel America is still getting used to us, that we are only a few generations in. However, the truth is that we have more than 100 years worth of history in this country.
So have we come far since 1909?
There is still a ways to go. According to a study by Committee of 100, 50 percent of the general population thinks Asians are adequately represented on corporate boards. The reality is that Asian Americans represent only 1.5 percent of Fortune 500 corporate board seats.
However, also take look at NWAW’s community calendar. There are so many events featuring Asian Americans in any given week. We also want to give credit to the organizers of these events, people who continue cultural traditions, those who put in time for community festivals, pageants, and parades, panels, and classes. It’s a vital part of our community. We know it takes a lot of effort and dedication. We are making steps in the right direction. ♦