A new 5 Compass attraction opened in Oregon yesterday–the Portland Chinatown Museum.
Ruth and I know its prime curator Jacqueline Peterson-Loomis because she and a friend and frequent traveler with us named Tom put together an excellent exhibit called “Sacred Encounters” several years ago that traveled all over North America. This exhibit has become a permanent museum in Cataldo, Idaho, thanks to Native American interest. The fresh and lively Chinatown museum is why we went to Portland yesterday for its opening day. Peterson-Loomis is a meticulous, authoritative curator, so Ruth & I knew the museum would be splendid and it is. It’s small but the artifacts are extremely well displayed and the information that accompanies them is mind-stirring. My favorite artifact was a book containing a recipe for sourdough French bread. The subject of this museum that will also present theater and temporary shows of note, like Dean Wong’s photos in an exhibit called “Made in Chinatown USA: Portland”, along with its ongoing permanent display. This Chinatown attraction will appeal to adults who like to read and are interested in the little-known aspects of the history of America’s Asian population.
The journey begins with information about Marco Polo, the 13th century traveler who took the Silk Road to the Middle Kingdom, and continues with the story of Chinese immigration to America. Trade between China and America began in 1784 when the ship Empress of China arrive with a cargo of ginseng to trade for tea. Reading about this was among the many times I said to myself, I didn’t know that.” After Great Britain won the 1st Opium War, trade changed, taxes increased, and 100,000 Cantonese workers left for jobs in America. They became miners, service workers, restaurant owners, etc. I really enjoyed looking at the business displays, including a Chinese restaurant called Hung Far Low (Almond Blossom) that was so lovely it made Ruth gasp with pleasure.
I didn’t know that Portland had the 2nd largest Chinese community in the country. Only San Francisco’s was larger. Peterson-Loomis, her curators, and the Asian community found and mounted a map of this city’s Chinatown in 1900. It hangs among many historic photos. Portland’s Chinatown today is not where it was in 1900. By that year there were already more than 100 Chinese businesses in Portland, which was still a small city with 7,841 residents of Chinese descent. I didn’t know that Portland hosted a Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905 to commemorate the hundred-year anniversary of their expedition. This sort of world’s fair “put Portland on the map!” Portland’s population doubled between 1900 and 1906.
Ruth and I enjoyed learning about Chinese medicine, opera, traditions, etc. Peterson-Loomis invited us to return, and I’m sure we’ll go back soon to further explore this fine, new addition to Portland’s revitalizing Chinatown, which is only one block from an excellent block-sized, authentic Chinese garden.