In more recent years, as I’ve learned more and more about the history of early Chinese-American immigrants to the States, I feel increasingly that those stories have largely been forgotten. While I had briefly learned about the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act in school, I never knew about the riots where residents violently forced Chinese workers out of cities (Seattle and Tacoma had some of the worst ones) or that Chinatowns were created as a way of protecting people from the violent racism beyond their boundaries. I wanted to find a way to talk about it and start conversations about it.
When I was brought on to the Allgire Project by the (amazing!) team at Overall Creative, they asked if I had any ideas about what I could design that would tie into the local history of the mural site at Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island. I discovered quickly that the there had been many Chinese immigrants who lived there during the 1880’s, working on potato farms and in fisheries. Eventually, as anti-Chinese sentiment grew, they were forced out by mob violence, when other local residents dynamited Chinese potato patches.
Through the design, I wanted to show the connection of Chinese-Americans today to those early stories. The main figure is a girl of today, but she’s tied to the stories of those who came before her in the scenes depicted in the rolling steam of her cup of tea.
I was so thrilled to get to create this piece and reference a piece of history that I think has mostly been lost there. On the first day of painting, people of all ages showed up to contribute their time and energy to seeing this come to life, and I’m so grateful for that. I hope that through art, we can continue to tell these stories.
Thank you to Sarah at the Allgire Project, Kathleen & Lina at Overall Creative, community donors, and all the wonderful community volunteers who helped paint the mural, for letting me share this story! (also thank you to my parents and Jay for graciously giving up part of the weekend to help me do this!)