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01 May 2018

Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage

Image: PBS SoCal
Happy May! Today is the first day of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We will be sharing articles and events celebrating the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans throughout the month. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, since a majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.

Of special interest to California Bay Area residents is the upcoming Chinese Ancestry Day, held Saturday, May 26 at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center in Oakland's Chinatown. The daylong workshop covers the fundamentals of genealogy for Chinese American families, offering basic steps to build your Chinese family tree.

Four distinguished guests will speak at the event, sharing their different areas of expertise. Keynote speaker is filmmaker Felicia Lowe, an award-winning independent television producer and director who is a Bay Area native and descendant of Angel Island detainees. Lowe will screen excerpts from her latest documentary, “Chinese Couplets,” which she describes as part memoir, part history, and part investigation. It explores the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Acts on four generations of women in her family. “What motivated me first of all was I really didn’t know my mother. I didn’t know her past,” she says. “Although I’m American born, I felt robbed of a history.” Her parents, both immigrants, were very reluctant to talk about their lives in China or the experience of coming to America. “The other compelling reason was that as long as there was the silence, the secrets, Exclusion still had a hold on my family," Lowe says. "And by telling it, I broke that hold.”

Genealogist Marisa Louie Lee will speak about “Chinese Exclusion Act Records at the National Archives.” A former archivist at the National Archives at San Francisco (in San Bruno), she is experienced in finding and interpreting records of Chinese and other Asian peoples who came to America during the Exclusion era, when they could not legally become citizens. Their stories, she says, are a part of American history that has long been overlooked. Lee was a research consultant on the documentary “The Chinese Exclusion Act,” which premieres May 26 on PBS as part of The American Experience series. “Does every fifth grader learn about the Exclusion Act in school?” she asks. “I’m hoping the film will help move that story into the mainstream.” 

Grant Din, an experienced researcher and genealogist, will speak on “The Importance of Family Stories.” And John Wong of RootsPlus will discuss “A Pilgrimage to Your Ancestral Village.”

The event concludes with time for questions and discussion, followed by lunch at the Peony Restaurant. For more details or to register, click HERE.

Chinese Ancestry Day is sponsored by the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, California Genealogical Society, the California Historical Society, and the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation.

Copyright © 2018 by California Genealogical Society