Back to search

Asian Cultural Center will have national significance, speaker says

Oct. 18, 2010

Dr. Jack Tchen, keynote speaker at the Salinas Chinatown: Once and Again Symposium on Oct. 15, told the gathering of 200 people at CSU Monterey Bay, "We, too, are in search of America."

He was referring to the subtitle of John Steinbeck's book, Travels with Charley. "In some ways," he said, "the legacy of Steinbeck's writing is what keeps us going."

Dr. Tchen, a historian, professor at New York University and co-founder of New York's Museum of Chinese in America, as well as several other museum professionals and artists were invited to the university to talk about the Salinas Chinatown Cultural Center and Museum, which will be housed in the former Republic Café on Soledad Street. They were joined by university faculty members, students and community members.

Dr. Tchen (pictured at right) pointed out that the museum will be important nationally, because it will share a history that is often overlooked. Most Asian cultural museums represent the urban experience. The one in Salinas will cover the rural and agricultural history of the Chinese, Japanese and Filipino communities who lived there from the nineteenth century into the 1950s.

Karin Higa, curator of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, advised the group to define "community" broadly as it goes about the work of preparing the museum to open its doors.

Wellington Lee, Wally Ahtye, Alfred Baguio and Larry Hirahara – community members with ties to Chinatown ­– talked about their experiences.

A plea for community members to share their artifacts and their memories of Chinatown was made by Dr. Lila Staples, who teaches museum studies classes at CSUMB. In collaboration with the National Steinbeck Center, Dr. Staples and her students are assembling the material that will be displayed in the center.

The last words came from architect Richard Fe Tom, who drew up the plans for the museum.

"You guys are going to get there. It's just a matter of time," he told the group.

To read more about the symposium, click here.