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Dragon dance, OHS exhibits show struggles of Chinese-American experience

February 2, 2016
OHS 1939 Chinese New Years

A 1939 Chinese New Year celebration in Portland.

by Rachel Randles

America’s desire for trade with China is older than Independence, yet in 1882 the nation’s borders shut for the first time to exclude Chinese workers. A long and bitter contest over immigration and citizenship ensued, influenced by tensions within the United States and the changing tenor of relations between the two countries. This struggle over freedom and the right to belong shaped the Chinese American experience and the formation of American society.

This spring, the Oregon Historical Society is sharing this complicated and deep history through two exhibitions and a slate of public programs. “Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion,” on display through June 1, is an exhibition loaned from the New-York Historical Society.

On Feb. 29, OHS will open “Beyond the Gate: A Tale of Portland’s Historic Chinatowns,” complimenting the national story with a local perspective of a time when Portland boasted the second largest Chinatown in the West. Using rare and seldom seen objects like Chinese opera costumes, theatrical sets, bilingual text, audiovisual media, and interactive visitor stations, “Beyond the Gate” tells a sprawling transnational story of contact and trade between China and the West, focusing on Portland’s Old (1850-1905) and New Chinatown (1905-1950).

To celebrate these exhibitions, OHS is hosting a dragon dance and parade on Feb. 7. Beginning at 11 a.m. on the corner of NW Davis & 4th Avenue in Portland’s Chinatown, local lion dance teams and volunteers will dance the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association’s beautiful dragon through Chinatown to the Oregon Historical Society in southwest Portland.

Following the parade, which will be the first time in a decade that the dragon has been shared with the public, OHS will be open for free all day and will host special lion dance performances and treats.

For more information on these exhibitions, and on the many free public programs taking place throughout the spring in Portland and across Oregon, visit For more on Chinese American history, visit The Oregon Encyclopedia, an online resource for Oregon history.

OHS Anna May Wong high res 54099_obverse_PR compress

Although born in Los Angeles, Anna May Wong was issued this identity card by the Seattle immigration office.

OHS Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 1940, Al Monner Collection_6 compressOHS China in New York 4th of July Parade, 1911


Rachel Randles is the communications and marketing manager for the Oregon Historical Society.

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