Branching out the Banyan Tree: A Changing Chinese America: Conference Proceedings Introduction

Article excerpt

The 2007 issue of Chinese America: History and Perspectives celebrates two milestones. First, it marks the 20th anniversary of the journal. Second, it contains the proceedings of the Chinese American town and gown conference, "Branching Out the Banyan Tree: A Changing Chinese America," that was held October 6 to 9, 2005, at the Radisson Miyako Hotel in San Francisco. It was thirty years ago that the Chinese Historical Society of America sponsored the first Chinese American conference in the nation. The 2005 conference is the 7th in the series of Chinese American conferences that CHSA initiated.

From July 10 to 12, 1975, the first Chinese American conference entitled, "The Life, Influence and the Role of the Chinese in the United States, 1776-1960," was held at the University of San Francisco with an attendance of 350-400. CHSA planned it in observance of America's bicentennial and it was endorsed by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration and the San Francisco Twin Bicentennial, Inc. A proceedings was published with approximately 35 papers.

At the time of CHSA's founding in 1963, the academic disciplines of Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies did not exist, and CHSA wag the only institution established and dedicated to the study of Chinese American history. As Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies began to take their place in the academe in the fall of 1969, additional Chinese American historical societies, museums, and organizations began to emerge throughout the country. In 1980, the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco held a conference in conjunction with the opening of its "Chinese of America" exhibit, and invited CHSA to be a cosponsor. Its proceedings was entitled, "The Chinese American Experience: Papers from the Second National Conference of Chinese American Studies." It took another twelve years for the third Chinese American Studies conference to occur in 1992, when the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California in Los Angeles became the next sponsor. At this point, Stanley Mu of CHSSA initiated and pushed the concept of conferences to be hosted in turn by various Chinese American historical societies. Three more conferences resulted, sponsored by the Hawaii Chinese History Center in Honolulu in 1994, the Museum of Chinese in the Americas in New York in 1997, and the Chinese Historical Society of Greater San Diego and Baja California in San Diego, California in 1999.

Much has happened to the study of Chinese American history since 1975. Instead of only one organization devoted to Chinese American history, we had 18 historical societies, museums, and organizations dedicated to Chinese American history that attended the 2005 conference. They came from around the country, including Canada and Australia, and met together for the first time as a caucus on October 8 (see "Special Sessions"). And, instead of only community organizations interested in researching their own history, we now have Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies in the academe acknowledging and researching Chinese American history, hence the union of CHSA and the Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University as lead cosponsors of the conference.

The mission and vision of the conference, as reflected in the town and gown union of CHSA and AAS at SFSU, were to open a multidimensional Chinese America for all to share. The conference had an attendance of 800-plus, 350 of whom were high school and university students learning side by side with people from both the community and academe. Over 250 participants from the community and academe presented their research and thoughts. Of these, 58% came from the community, 30% came from the academe, and 12% were students from high school and college. About 4 high schools and 60 colleges/universities were represented. There were also 13 panels sponsored by community organizations. In addition, members from 18 Chinese American historical societies and organizations presented papers and/or represented their organizations at the caucus. …