The Portland Chinatown Museum is honored to expand our Chinatown Live! project by presenting additional oral history excerpts from more of our treasured community elders. Their narratives vividly recall a vibrant and changing neighborhood marked by friendships, cultural traditions and forging new beginnings. They also highlight the complexity of both the challenges and opportunities faced by our earliest Chinese Americans in Portland.

Please note that all Chinatown Live! materials belong to the Portland Chinatown Museum and are intended for educational purposes only. All other use requires prior written permission from the Museum. For more information about our oral history collection, send an email to

Meet Our Elders

To read, listen or view their stories just click on their name.
Oral history excerpts have been minimally edited for length, clarity and to protect personal information.


Frank grew up helping his father run the Portland Chinese Noodle Factory, which was located on NW Second Avenue (now the Lan Su Chinese Garden).

Read more of Frank’s story: Chinatown Live!_Franklin


Betty Jean was the daughter of a paper son who owned several Chinese restaurants and an import-export business in Portland. He believed in education for girls and supported Betty Jean in becoming a successful businessperson.

Read more of Betty Jean’s story: Chinatown Live!_ Betty Jean



When May’s mother became an unexpected widow at 40, she supported her large family by starting her own laundry business in Chinatown.

Read more of May’s story: Chinatown Live!_May


Janet and her friends used to roller skate with the other neighborhood kids at the North Park Blocks everyday during the summer.

Read more of Janet’s story: Chinatown Live!_Janet


Larry grew up a block away from the Burnside Bridge on Second and Burnside, once considered the “dividing line” between Old and New Chinatown.

Read more of Larry’s story: Chinatown Live!_Larry


As a child, Dorothy played hide and seek with her friends in the doorways and storefronts of New Chinatown.

Read more of Dorothy’s story: Chinatown Live!_Dorothy


For Evelyn, growing up in downtown Portland was very exciting. She remembers spotting Hollywood movie stars like James Stewart and Rock Hudson at the Multnomah Hotel (now Embassy Suites).

Listen to more of Evelyn’s story:


As a young man, Fred delivered bean sprouts by bicycle to restaurants in Chinatown and Japantown. His family grew the bean sprouts in large glass jars in their wooden storefront.

Listen to more of Fred’s story:



Penny spent long hours working at Hung Far Low restaurant as a teenager, but she also enjoyed roller skating parties and dances with her friends in Chinatown.

Listen to more of Penny’s story:


When Gordon was a small boy dining at Hung Far Low restaurant, he enjoyed watching the kitchen use a 14-foot bamboo pole to make noodles.

Listen to more of Gordon’s story:


Bue Kee (1893-1985) was a painter, sculptor, and ceramicist born in Portland Chinatown who later moved with his family to Clackamas County to help manage a hops farm. Hard of hearing, Kee could read and write but never finished grade school. In 1927, he and his family returned to Portland, and Kee began attending the Museum Art School. The first recipient of the school’s Carey Prize, Kee went on to work as an artist for the Federal Art Project under the Works Progress Administration, which included ceramic centerpieces for Timberline Lodge and Tongue Point Naval Station. Kee also worked as a ceramicist at the nationally-recognized Oregon Ceramic Studio.

Click HERE to view photos from Bue Kee’s personal albums.


Bong Wai Chen was a gifted Chinese watercolor artist and calligrapher who immigrated to the United States in 1936 from Guangzhou, China. In 1950, he moved to Portland from Oakland with his wife Virginia and their young family to pursue the American dream of owning a business. By 1960, after working in a restaurant and taking graphic art side jobs, Bong Wai and Virginia were able to open the Chinese Art Studio in Portland’s Chinatown. Through their art studio and gift shop, they made long-lasting friendships in which Bong Wai was considered an ambassador of Chinese art and culture and a teacher, friend and leader in the Chinese American community.

Click HERE to watch an oral history with his family, who share their personal memories of Bong Wai Chen.

Scenes From Portland Chinatown: 1937 – 1951

Click on a photo to begin the slideshow.

Photo identification provided by Fred Wong, Norm Locke, Mary Lai Mullaley and Terry Chung. 

Additional Resources

Visit Our Main Chinatown Live! Page

Learn more about the history of our museum through the Chinatown Live! project and the stories and photos that launched it.

Learn More About Portland Chinatown History

Watch New Light on Portland’s Old and New Chinatowns: 1851-1951 with historian Dr. Jacqueline Peterson-Loomis and community elders Bertha Saiget and Norman Locke.


Oral histories are for everyone! Use our resource guide to learn more about the oral history process and access expert information, tips and toolkits.

Chinatown Live! was made possible in part by a generous grant from the Oregon Heritage Commission.