Did you know that in 1900, Portland was home to one of the largest Chinatowns in the nation? Second only to San Francisco, the late nineteenth century ethnic makeup of Portland boasted a fast-growing Chinese population. However, while many locals have walked through the gates leading into Northwest Portland, few know the rich history of Portland’s two historic Chinatowns and the stories of those who made their home here.
Now, you can travel back in time and discover the stories of these early Portlanders at the Oregon Historical Society in the original exhibition Beyond the Gate: A Tale of Portland’s Historic Chinatowns open now through June 21, 2016.
After gold was discovered in 1848, Chinese miners, laundrymen, cooks, gardeners, merchants, and doctors migrated to California and the Northwest. Immigrants who settled in Oregon established “Old Chinatown” (1850-1905) which was centered on SW Second and Front Avenues in downtown Portland.
After the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition and Oriental Fair brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Rose City and sparked a building boom, many Chinese merchants left the community they had built south of Burnside and reinvested in Northwest Portland near Union Station, creating “New Chinatown” (1905-1950). Chinese in Oregon were deeply impacted by federal exclusion laws, but they nevertheless built homes, commercial enterprises, and families whose legacies continue today.
Curated by Dr. Jacqueline Peterson-Loomis in collaboration with renowned scenic designer Carey Wong and Chinese community members, this immersive exhibition draws on oral history interviews, photographs, business directories, maps, and historic artifacts. It brings to life the robust sights and sounds of places of business, education, and entertainment, offering museum goers a glimpse of life “beyond the gate”.
In conjunction with Beyond the Gate, the Oregon Historical Society is also host to the acclaimed New-York Historical Society exhibition Chinese American: Exclusion / Inclusion. In 1882, the nation's borders shut for the first time to exclude Chinese workers, catalyzing a long and bitter contest over immigration and citizenship. This struggle over freedom and the right to belong shaped the Chinese American experience and the very formation of American society. Chinese American is a perfect foil to the Society’s local exhibit, and Portland is the only city on the West Coast to host this exhibition, which will travel to China after it closes on June 1, 2016.
A series of free public programs on the topics of immigration, migration, exclusion, and inclusion of Americans throughout history have also been scheduled at the Oregon Historical Society and at venues across the state. For a full calendar of programs, visit www.ohs.org/events.
The Oregon Historical Society’s museum is open seven days a week, Monday – Saturday from 10am – 5pm and Sunday from 12pm – 5pm. Admission is $11, and discounts are available for students, seniors, and youth. Admission is free for OHS members and Multnomah County residents every day.