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Project Documents Contributions of Chinese American Citizens


Members of the Chinese Club of San Marino following a presentation of the Cal State LA Chinese American Oral History Project hosted by the club at the home of Isaac and Celia Hung. PICTURED ABOVE, left to right, are President Alan Chen, Past President John Chou, Tony Chou, Jenny Chiang, Nancy Lee, Maggie Lee, Chun-Yen Chen and Johnson Shyong. Sally Kilby Photo

“How many of you have ever read anything in your textbooks about the contributions of Asian Americans?” asked Gay Yuen, California State University, Los Angeles professor emeritus.

She was addressing nearly 75 predominantly Asian attendees at a program on a Cal State oral history project that was held on Saturday, June 2 in San Marino.

“I know I never did, and my children never did.”

The university’s new history project is remedying this. Cal State LA undergraduates are conducting interviews with Chinese Americans. The students are documenting their interviewees’ contributions to the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles and the United States. The conversations are transcribed and then digitized. When the archival process is completed, stories and images from their lives will be accessible to all.

A joint program between the university’s Asian and Asian American Studies Program and the Library’s Special Collections & Archives is making it possible. Speakers at Saturday’s presentation acquainted the San Gabriel community with the unique initiative and requested donations to continue.

Attending the presentation of the Cal State LA Chinese American Oral History Project are (left to right) Gay Yuen, Cal State LA; Councilmember Bob Joe; Timothy Liu, engineer interviewee whose history was displayed at the event; Pei-Lu Liu, his wife. The Liu family lives in South Pasadena. Sally Kilby Photos

The Chinese Club of San Marino hosted the reception at the home of Isaac and Celia Hung.

U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, 27th C.D., attended to express support for the program.

“Chinese Americans have really changed the San Gabriel Valley,” she said to the audience. “But how did that happen? Where are the stories?”

Assemblymember Ed Chau, of 49th Assembly District, said, “It is an excellent program for us to understand the historical context about people who achieved success.”

For Alan Chen, the president of the Chinese Club of San Marino, stories have personal meaning.

“I was a parachute kid,” he said, “choosing to come to the United States when I was 13 while the rest of my family remained in Taiwan.”

Once here, he moved quite a bit. He said he lived with families in such places as San Bernardino, Colton, Anaheim and Arcadia. His wide-ranging experiences were recorded for a UCLA oral history project.

Juily Phun, director of the Asian American Oral History Project, has an ambitious goal for the endeavor.

Certificates from political leaders are displayed following a presentation of the Cal State LA Chinese American Oral History Project hosted by the San Marino Chinese Club at a private home. From left to right, Alan Chen, president, San Marino Chinese Club; John Chou, former president; U.S. Rep. Judy Chu; Pamela Scott-Johnson, Dean, College of Natural and Social Sciences, Cal State LA; and Juily Phun, director of the Chinese American Oral History Project at the university.

“I hope that by next year,” she told the audience, “we’ll have one of the largest digital repositories of Asian American oral histories.”  With the help of private funding, she said, in one semester more than 40 interviews of Chinese scientists and engineers have been recorded. She estimated that the entire collection contains 150 interviews.

The stories of a few of the interviewees were displayed at the event.

Timothy Liu’s work as a structural engineer was reflected in photographs of such projects as the Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits and the Engineering Building at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Only a few of his many outstanding projects were displayed, Phun said.

Winston and Joanne Young were also featured. They founded Young Engineering and Manufacturing of San Dimas in 1987. Parts of their families have been in the U.S. for generations, Phun said.

To meet the project’s goal, Phun said, more resources are needed. The complete process requires training, recording, transcribing, digitizing and indexing, according to a display.

Those wishing to donate can email Phun at jphun@calstatela.edu.


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