Event aims to explore the roles of Asian and Pacific Americans at the 1909 world’s fair in Seattle
By Leslie Yeh
Northwest Asian Weekly
For archaeologist Chuimei Ho and husband Ben Bronson, Asian American history is not only about understanding the past — it’s about giving value to the present.
This year marks the centennial anniversary of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE), a world’s fair held in Seattle in 1909 that celebrated the development of the Pacific Northwest.
In commemoration, Ho and Bronson are organizing a symposium to be held on Sept. 12 and Sept. 13 to explore the role of Asian/Pacific groups (Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, and Filipino) at the exposition.
The event will feature a number of speakers, academic discussions, and a special tour of the University of Washington grounds (the original home of the AYPE). It will be hosted by Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks.
The symposium is held in conjunction with the Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee’s (CINARC) website, edited by Ho and Bronson. The website fuels collaborative research on the history of the Chinese in the Pacific Northwest spanning the past few centuries.
With a doctorate in art history and archaeology from the University of London, Ho’s enthusiasm for uncovering the history of local Asian Americans is infectious as she speaks about the upcoming event.
“Although we have some very well known academic researchers, the majority of speakers are what we call ‘community historians’ … despite a lack of formal training, these are people who are very interested in cultural history, and what they have discovered is absolutely vital in understanding the bigger picture.”
“We have a mixed audience,” Bronson adds, referring to the attendees. “Some are Japanese Americans, some are Filipino, and some are direct descendents of participants in the AYPE. We’re really looking forward to meeting many of these people. They are influential business and community leaders, just like their ancestors.”
The symposium will explore eight research papers each day, followed by commentaries and open discussions.
The first day’s program, held at the National Archives and Records Administration in Seattle, will highlight themes such as the oscillating relations between early Japanese and Chinese immigrants and the wide impact of Asian/Pacific participation at the AYPE.
The second day’s program will take place at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture — currently hosting its own AYPE exhibit — and will focus on topics such as Chinese exhibits at the exposition and local attitudes toward Asian Pacific groups.
Among the notable speakers to present is Richard Kay, son of Lew G. Kay (program chairman of China Day, a cultural day, at the AYPE) and Rosaline Goon Dip (daughter of Goon Dip, an influential entrepreneur and pioneer of China Day).
As a volunteer at the event, Kay is eager to share his personal history. “I was kind of a product of the fair,” he said. “My grandfather [Lew King] and my dad paved the way for the Chinese to be recognized in the Northwest.
My dad was the first Chinese to graduate from the University of Washington. In those days, there was a lot of discrimination, and there were many obstacles to overcome … [the AYPE] made everyone more aware of Asian/Pacific groups and got American society to recognize the importance of all ethnicities.”
Other distinguished speakers include Marie Wong, a Seattle University professor with a book in progress about the development of the International District community, and Robert Rydell, a professor at Montana State University who has authored multiple works on world’s fair history.
The symposium is partially financed by a 4Culture grant sponsored by King County. “It’s not really us, it’s a community effort — from the sponsors and the museums to the speakers and commentators,” Ho said. “Many of the speakers spent a lot of time digging through historical data, and for that, we are very grateful.”
With an esteemed line-up, the symposium is poised to be an exploration of early Asian/Pacific immigration and the importance of those immigrants’ participation at the world’s fair.
Ho and Bronson hope that with the continued support of the community and the unraveling of the rich historical fabric of the community, they can hold similar events in the future.
“Even though a lot of people have a very intricate ancestry, they don’t see it that way!” Ho said. “When you look closer, you see that these are the generations that still hold important information and if you don’t remember it now, you will lose it altogether. Here in Seattle, we are blessed with so many public archive collections and historical museums … these are wonderful places to deposit family autographs, letters, and other mementos of the past.” ♦
The symposium will take place this weekend on Sept. 12 and Sept. 13. For more information, visit www.cinarc.org.
Leslie Yeh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.