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  • Telling Our Stories: The Asian American Comparative Collection
  • Linda Trinh Vo
The Asian American Comparative Collection, Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthroplogy, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-1111. (208) 885-6123. <http://www.uidaho.edu/LS/AACC/>

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Figure 1.

Display case of exhibit open to the public. The case contains Chinese opium smoking paraphernalia, medicinal paraphernalia, table ceramics, and utilitarian wares along with Japanese rice bowls and sake container. Photograph from Grace Pretre; copy courtesy of the late Chuck Peterson. From the Asian American Comparative Collection, University of Idaho, Moscow.


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Figure 2.

Storage cabinets/drawers with artifacts available to the public by appointment only. Visible are Chinese brown glazed utilitarian wares, tablewares, opium smoking paraphernalia, and medicinal paraphernalia along with Japanese rice bowls, sake bottle, and medicinal bottles. Photograph from Grace Pretre; copy courtesy of the late Chuck Peterson. From the Asian American Comparative Collection, University of Idaho, Moscow.


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Figure 3.

Ah Sing, also known as Hop Sing, who worked both as a gardener and a laundryman, delivering vegetables or perhaps laundry, in Hope, Idaho in the early 1900s. Photograph from Grace Pretre; copy courtesy of the late Chuck Peterson. From the Asian American Comparative Collection, University of Idaho, Moscow.

Established in 1982, the Asian American Comparative Collection (AACC) housed in the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology at the University of Idaho, Moscow is a hidden treasure for those interested in rural Asian American communities in the Pacific Northwest. Located in northwestern Idaho, the AACC is a combination museum and library. Scholars researching mainly Chinese and Japanese American history in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington can benefit from this repository of artifacts and bibliographic material. The collection also holds general resources helpful for the study of Asian Americans.

Priscilla Wegars, a volunteer curator, has almost single-handedly established the collection and is also most familiar with its contents. Others who assisted and supported the collection have been Asians in the region, students, staff, and faculty from the University of Idaho and Washington State University, regional historical societies, and local associations such as the Palouse Asian American Association.

Although the region’s most famous Asian American pioneer is a Chinese woman known as Lalu Nathoy, later Polly Bemis, who arrived in Idaho in 1872, most of the region’s earliest Asian residents were men. Asian migration to the area began when gold was discovered and when these territories were incorporated as states. By 1870, there were nearly 8,000 Chinese in the Northwest, and in 1889, 16,000. In 1870, Idaho Territory had some 4,000 Chinese residents who comprised about 28.5 percent of the total population. Thus, in this sparsely populated area, Asians often represented a substantial portion of the total population. [End Page 93]

The early Chinese and Japanese came to the region seeking economic opportunities, and most found work as laborers or as entrepreneurs. Many prospected for gold and other minerals in rural mining camps, grew and peddled vegetables grown in terraced gardens, and served meals from chuck wagons and cook shacks. They also worked on railroads and hop farms, in lumber mills and canneries. Still others were doctors, interpreters, blacksmiths, barbers, and prostitutes. Some managed to open businesses as grocers, merchants, laundrymen, traders, hucksters (peddlers), agents, and brothel, saloon, gambling house, and hotel keepers mainly servicing the ethnic communities. Additionally, some found occupational niches as domestic servants and service workers for European Americans.

Asians lived in the towns of Pierce and Warren, Idaho, in Granite in northeastern Washington, and in Baker City and John Day, Oregon. Chinese worked and lived along the Salmon, Snake, and Columbia rivers, where natural resources such as minerals and fish were once abundant. This, however, represents only a small fraction of their stories—remnants of Asian lives and communities are dotted throughout the region. Information on the full range of those histories, nonetheless, is scant, because of the difficulty of locating adequate historical sources.

Today, many of those sites have been abandoned, indicating the physical difficulties of surviving in this uncompromising terrain, but also symbolizing [End Page 94...

Additional Information

ISSN
1096-8598
Print ISSN
1097-2129
Pages
pp. 93-100
Launched on MUSE
1999-02-01
Open Access
No
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