Monday, October 12, 2015

My Chinese Food Articles and the 40th Anniversary of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California

In the three years since Clarissa Wei indirectly launched me on an avocational career writing on Chinese American restaurant topics, I've written a few dozen history and cultural laced Chinese food articles.  (For the uninitiated, most of those articles aren't here on my blog, but rather can be found at this link to the Menuism website. )  But writing these articles has not been a brand new experience for me, but rather a revival after a 30 year writing slumber.  Indeed, the period of writing inactivity was so long that I almost forgot about my previous writing bouts, and really was just reminded of it now as I was just interviewed in connection with the upcoming 40th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California.

During that interview it was brought to my attention the forgotten fact (as far as I was concerned) that I was CHSSC member number 8,  At that point in 1975 I was a couple of years out of law school and had written a number of articles on Chinese American history in the six years since I received my undergraduate degree from UCLA.  My specialty areas were the history of the Chinese in Los Angeles and the Chinese Exclusion laws.  Back then the field of Chinese American history was so undeveloped that a rank amateur like myself  could make real contributions to the literature of the day.  My term paper from the undergraduate "Orientals in America" class at UCLA on the Chinese in Los Angeles was immediately published in the pioneering Asian American movement newspaper Gidra, and other iterations of that topic appeared in Bridge Magazine out of New York Chinatown, and in the Chinese Chamber of Commerce 1975 Chinese New Year souvenir program.  My magnum opus, so to speak, was my piece also from 1975 entitled "The Tragedy and Trauma of the Chinese Exclusion Laws", presented to the bicentennial related conference The Life, Role and Influence of the Chinese in America, sponsored by the Chinese Historical Society of America, and included in the proceedings from that conference that they published.

I then went on to a different area of concentration--American Chinatowns as depicted in turn of the century post cards, as well as cards from later eras.  I took some of my duplicate postcards (didn't want to risk the originals) and put together a display and presentation, first given at a meeting of US government employees in the San Fernando Valley at the Van Nuys Federal Building (at this point in time I have totally forgotten how they got a hold of me--I think the guy's name was Hyman Lee), and later to the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California and the Chinese Historical Society of America's second conference on the Life, Role and Influence of the Chinese in America held in 1980.  A paper was published in connection with the CHSA conference, though the book wasn't actually published until 1984.  I think that was the last of my historical articles to be published, though probably not the last I had written, as I did write some articles for both of the Chinese Historical Societies between 1980 and 1984.

I guess there was a precursor of my current Chinese food writing activities back in 1977 when I wrote my one and only published restaurant review, of Hong Kong Restaurant in Sioux City, IA for East West, the Chinese American Journal, a weekly newspaper out of San Francisco.  But even then, the review was as much about the setting of the restaurant, as the food that they served, particularly the fact that I ended up driving by the Sioux Bee Honey Factory before reaching the restaurant..  After the early 1980s, life got too busy to continue my writings on Chinese-American topics.  But in 2012, thanks to the publicity resulting from Clarissa Wei's write up on me and my 6,000 Chinese restaurant visits, I received offers to write on Chinese food.  Well meaning people contacted me under the presumption that having eaten at 6,000 Chinese restaurants I was an expert on Chinese cuisine and had the knowledge to be a Chinese restaurant critic.  Nothing was farther from the truth--I was like the guy my co-workers once talked about, who had 15 years experience in taxation, but which did not impress them because they said it was like "fifteen 1 year experiences".  Nevertheless I have taken the ball and run with it, using the opportunity to bring out the themes I used to write about decades ago--the Chinese Exclusion Laws, racial discrimination against Chinese Americans, and to tell these stories to new generations who had little idea of such events that had transpired in the past.