Portland Chinatown Oral Histories

What is Chinatown Live?

The Portland Chinatown History Foundation has been building and digitizing a collection of more than 40 oral history recordings of Chinatown elders since 2000. These unpublished and still largely unknown stories of 19th century and early 20th century Chinese immigrant experiences in Oregon, of the racism and violence impelling the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and of the decades long pursuit of full citizenship and civil rights by native-born Chinese Americans, are the primary source materials for the narrative foundation of the Portland Chinatown Museum’s permanent exhibition, Beyond the Gate.
 
Chinatown Live! aims to expand public access to the interpretive power of Portland Chinatown elders’ oral histories, so that audiences of all ages and backgrounds can learn from and engage with Oregon’s Chinese American history and heritage.

Meet some of our Portland Chinatown elders:

Patsy Fong Lee

The daughter of a tailor, Patsy Fong Lee was born and raised in Portland’s old Chinatown in a large family with six siblings. After marrying Eugene Lee in 1951 and starting a family, she began studying calligraphy. She went on to become a calligraphy instructor for local colleges and adult education programs, and the owner of a calligraphy business called Penultima.

Mary Lee Leong

Mary Nom Lee Leong was a historian of the Chinese-American experience in Oregon and one of the last people to grow up in Portland's Chinatown. Most of her life was dedicated to preserving the history of Chinese-Americans who fought to overcome discrimination in their adopted country. She also founded the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Museum in Portland.

Norman Locke

Norman Locke is a fourth-generation Chinese American and native Oregonian who has been a central figure in Oregon and Chinese American civic affairs for much of his life. His service includes the cofounding of several Oregon museums, including the Portland Chinatown Museum.

Bertha Saiget

Bertha Saiget was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and was a multicultural education teacher in Portland Public Schools, and organizer of educational and cultural activities for the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. Saiget is also a cofounder of the Portland Chinatown History Foundation.

Gloria Wong

For over two decades, Gloria Lee Wong served as the English Secretary for the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, and on the staff of the Oregon Chinese News. Together with husband Bruce Wong, Gloria Lee Wong received the Northwest China Council’s Flying Horse Award in 1997 for their lifetime of service to Portland’s Chinese community.

Hear their voices and explore their stories:

HOW DID YOUR FAMILY COME TO PORTLAND?

Listen to audio clips of our elders sharing how their families arrived and settled in Portland, Oregon.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO GROW UP IN PORTLAND CHINATOWN?

Discover Portland Chinatown history through priceless childhood photos and recollections.

HOW DID YOU KEEP YOUR CONNECTION TO THE PORTLAND CHINESE AMERICAN COMMUNITY?

Watch short videos about how our elders have helped preserve the history and culture of Portland’s Chinatown

Top image: (Clockwise) Lee Yoke and Hom Tien Shee (Bertha Saiget’s parents), c. 1920s; Patsy Fong’s high school graduation, 1948; Norman Locke, c. 1950s; Chinese man holding a child on Second Avenue, 1905; Bertha Saiget, 1948; Patsy Fong at age 6 with group, 1934; Mary Nom Lee Leong, 1931, Norman Locke’s mother Agnes, 1927; Chinese lion dance in Portland, Chinatown, c. 1930s; Fred, Mary, and Harold Lee, 1932.

 

 

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