The awful rise in attacks on Asian Americans in recent months has reminded me how horribly Chinese immigrants were treated in the Pacific Northwest in the latter half of the 19th century, as well as how difficult it has been through the years for local Asian Americans to be heard on issues affecting them.
Things have improved in recent decades but Americans and Canadians of Asian descent—who make up 9% of the population in Washington, 5% in Oregon, and an impressive 25% in British Columbia—are still underrepresented in the governments and news outlets in their regions.
Fortunately, in addition to more narrowly targeted newspapers, the Northwest now has three daily publications dedicated specifically to news and issues affecting Asian American residents: Asian Journal in Vancouver (BC), Northwest Asian Weekly in Seattle, and the The Asian Reporter in Portland.
A Little History
Asians and Asian Americans have maintained a continual presence in the Pacific Northwest since the 1850s, when the first Chinese miners migrated north to Oregon and Washington from California. These miners were soon followed by others who worked in salmon canneries and logging camps as laborers or cooks, or ran small businesses.
When the railroads began to snake their way into the Northwest, Chinese workers helped to blast pathways and lay rails, earning a reputation for diligence, skill, and speed—as well as the enmity of white workers, who hated them for their willingness to do more for less and their skin color.
As the 19th century progressed, other Asian groups followed, arriving from Japan, the Philippines, Hawaii, and elsewhere. Virtually all of these early Asian residents were young men willing to work hard for whatever they could earn.
By 1870, there were over 4,000 Asian immigrants in Idaho—a third of the population—as well as over 3,000 in Oregon, most of them Chinese. While there were fewer than 400 in Washington at that time, by 1880 that number had grown to over 3,000 too .
Despite being subject to targeted restrictions (such as special taxes and laws against marrying whites or owning property) and, in the mid-1880s, attacks by mobs, many of these residents remained in the area or returned when conditions improved. In other words, they persisted.
Even 1882’s vile Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigration into the U. S. for 10 years, didn’t shake the determination of those already in the country to stay and make their living wherever and however they could.
Northwest residents of Japanese extraction, of course, were subject to another cruel law in 1942, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced them to leave their homes, their farms, and their businesses to move to government-run internment camps. When World War II ended, many who went back to where they’d lived before the war had to start from scratch among neighbors who had greedily acquired the property they’d been forced to abandon.
While early Asian settlers in the Northwest sought both identity and protection in their own nation-of-origin-focused groups, a greater Asian American identification began to grow in the later part of the 20th century. In Seattle, for example, the former Chinatown was renamed the International District (over the objections of some Chinese leaders) to recognize the mingling of many Asian American groups in the area.
Although there have always been newspapers for Asian Americans from different groups (often published in languages other than English), it wasn’t until late in the 20th century that English-language papers focused on Asian Americans from all backgrounds began to appear in Northwest cities.
Today, as the percentage of people in the Northwest who identify as Asian American continues to grow, the news sites dedicated to keeping them informed and representing their interests are good sources for all Northwesterners wanting to expand their understanding of their neighbors and their vision of the world.
Here are some useful links related to news and other writing by and about Asian Americans in the Northwest:
One of my goals for this site is to introduce readers to writing set in the Northwest that hasn’t reached a large audience, especially works by writers other than white men. To that end, I’m working on future reviews of exciting new literature as well as posts by myself and others about past writings that should be better known. But I don’t want to ignore iconic Northwest books.
So, to get a lot of great books onto the site quickly, here’s a link to a post the folks at Powell’s Books put together back in 2014 titled, “40 Books Set in the Pacific Northwest.” The list is a bit male-, white-, and Oregon-centric, but, to be fair, it was produced eight years ago and the intention seems to have been to alert people to some of the biggies. Maybe the Powell’s staff will produce a follow-up with more-current works soon!
Earlier this week, the winners of the 2022 Oregon Book Awards were announced. While the awards honor books by Oregon writers rather than books specifically about Oregon, a fair number of the award finalists are usually set in the state or explore some aspect of it.
Soon, I’ll be posting a review of one of this year’s finalist, rough house by Tina Ontiveros (this site’s first book review), but today I’m thinking of a wonderful and unique award winner I picked up at the ceremony a few years ago.
While he quotes from some academic sources–such as Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown’s classic look at the Columbia Chinook,The Chinook Indians: Traders of Lower Columbia(University of Oklahoma Press, 1976)–Aquilar’s main sources of information are other descendants of the Columbia tribes. And his intention isn’t to add to the historical record so much as give his people a sense of their own traditions, customs, and, yes, history.
“In a recent visit to Wolford Canyon, where I was brought up,” he writes, “there was only silence. The memories remain, but the echoes of the canyon are calm. No children play in the springwater pools. No sweathouse fires heat the rocks. No deer hides are soaking. No buckskin tanning. No gardens. No wheat or hay growing. The fields are now teeming with juniper trees where the golden heads of wheat once swayed to the whispers of the wind.”
To replace that silence, Aguilar excavates the memories of people he knows and others whose reminiscences have been recorded. Out of these and his own experiences, he weaves a kind of handbook for Chinook descendants like himself, especially the younger generations of the 21st century, who have no contact with anyone who lived by the old ways.
In the midst of chapters that explore the Chinooks’ traditional foods (both plants and animals), religions and beliefs, myths and legends, and warfare, Aguilar includes set pieces on practices such as the sweathouse, meat drying, the use of traditional nets, and something known as “butt slapping,” a way for native fishermen on platforms over the Columbia River to indicate which fish they’ve caught they want to keep for themselves.
The chapter on salmon fishing on the Columbia is worth the book’s cost alone. Not only does Aguilar evoke the heyday of Celilo Falls, he also talks about salmon runs, salmon festivals, fishing techniques, and customs that regulated how and where the salmon were fished for.
In other sections, he writes about the other species the Chinook relied on–Pacific lamprey, crayfish, sturgeon, smelt–and gives an exhaustive list of the plants they ate or used in other ways, as well as how they prepared them.
Beginning with his own experiences in forced boarding schools and government programs ,like one in the 1950s that attempted to get younger Indians to move off the reservation into cities, Aguilar takes us through the hardships his people have had to endure while also celebrating the endurance of a vibrant culture in danger of being completely lost.
One of the most important aspects of Aguilar’s project is his naming of individual tribal members, past and present–names that have been left out of the history books. He traces the lineage of individual names, tells us how names have been given, and looks at the meanings of those names. He is careful to name important local figures who are unknown to the general public and tell their stories too.
“The River People are the Northwest Klickitat and the Eastern-speaking Chinookan Kiksht,” Aguilar writes. “They are the Wascos, the Cascades, the Wishxams, the Clackamas, the Multnomahs, the Hood Rivers, the Skamanias, the Skilloots, and others who lived in villages on both sides of the Wilmaɬ, the Columbia River.”
By naming and writing for the descendants of these people–his people–Aquilar is trying to make sure they and their ways are not forgotten.
When the River Ran Wild!
Indian Traditions on the Mid-Columbia and the Warm Springs Reservation
by George W. Aguilar, Sr.
Published by Oregon Historical Press, in association with the University of Washington Press
You don’t have to do more than scratch the surface of Pacific Northwest history to see how unwelcoming the area has been for African Americans. Oregon’s constitution, enacted on this date (February 14) in 1859, made it illegal for Blacks to even stay overnight in the state. As late as 1941, Portland–the only Oregon city with more than a handful of African Americans–had fewer than 2,000 in a population of 300,000.
And Seattle wasn’t much better. Despite being desperate for workers at the start of World War II, Boeing refused to hire even highly skilled African Americans. And most of the neighborhoods in Seattle’s north end (where I grew up) were formed with covenants forbidding house sales to people of color.
The Northwest’s midsize cities, smaller towns, and rural areas were no better. Even now, it’s rare to see a Black face anywhere outside the larger cities. According to the Census Bureau, in 2020 Washington State was only 4% Black, Oregon 2%, and Idaho 1%.
Given this history, it will come as no shock to hear that the area’s white-owned newspapers generally ignored its Black residents. The dearth of stories about people who looked like her became so painful to Portland resident Kathryn Hall Boyle (1906-2003) that in 1937 she arranged for a meeting with the Oregonian‘s city editor to show him the pitiful number of Black-oriented articles she’d found in his paper. His response was to ask her to write something herself.
While Bogle’s article may have been a watershed moment for the area’s white press, it was far from the first piece to be written about African American life in the Northwest. The region has been home to Black-owned and Black-focused newspapers since at least the 1890s.
One of the region’s most successful early Black papers was the Northwest Enterprise, published from 1920 through 1952. Although centered in Seattle, the Enterprise had a Portland bureau where several women from the Bogle family served as editors. In fact, the Enterprise was an early leader in hiring women as writers and editors. You’ll find facsimiles of several issues of the paper here.
Today, you’ll find Northwest news for and about the African American community in several newspapers, including:
And for a fascinating look at many issues of Portland’s older African American newspapers, visit the Portland State University library’s Historic Black Newspapers of Oregon site, where you can browse and download editions from the Rutherford Family Collection.
A short time ago, I happened upon an article announcing that a group of writers who specialized in wine were starting a new print magazine dedicated to covering the NW wine industry. Called Great Northwest Wine, the publication is linked to a 10-year-old website with the same name, and most of the writers, editors and photographers involved with it used to work for Wine Press Northwest, a magazine the Tri-City Herald newspaper produced for 23 years before ending its run this past September.
According to the article, there are now over 1,000 wineries in Washington State, 900 in Oregon, 370 in British Columbia, 65 in Idaho, and “a handful” in Montana.
Even residents of the area assume wine-making is a fairly recent addition to the NW economy, but one website I found credits photographer Peter Britt with planting what he called the Valley View Vineyard in the 1850s. (Britt’s estate in southern Oregon is known today as the location for the Britt Music & Arts Festival, “the Pacific Northwest’s premier outdoor summer performing arts festival.”) According to HistoryLink.org, the first NW grapes were planted even earlier, in 1825, at Fort Vancouver, then an outpost of the British Hudson’s Bay Company.
The Oregon Wine site traces the origins of Oregon’s modern wine industry to 1933 when, in the days after the repeal of Prohibition, a group of entrepreneurs received “bonded winery status.” According to the site, Hillcrest Winery in the Umpqua Valley is the state’s oldest estate winery and it was Hillcrest’s Richard Sommer who planted the many varieties of grapes on which today’s thriving Oregon wine reputation is built.
The Washington Wine site tells us that around the same time Hillcrest was coming into existence, the Washington Wine Producers Association was being founded. By 1937, Washington had 42 wineries.
In Oregon, as anyone who knows wines at all can tell you, Pinot Noir is king, topping 60,000 tons in annual production, four times its nearest rival, Pinot Gris.
But this is a site dedicated to writing about the Northwest rather than the wonders of NW wine, so let me give you some sites that feature writing about NW wine as well as a few books on the subject for you to check out:
Sometimes you don’t want to have to dig through a big history book to learn more about a particular person or event you’ve heard about somewhere. Fortunately, there are excellent websites that offer vast collections of useful and often intriguing writings about all aspects of history in both Washington and Oregon.
The Washington site is called HistoryLink,org. Billing itself as “the free online encyclopedia of Washington state history,” it offers 7961 articles (and counting) on everything from the indigenous tribes that lived in different parts of the state in pre-contact times to the particulars of important political races in more recent days.
A pleasantly designed and usefully organized site, it is easily navigated from the home page, where you’ll find not only a search box and tabs for useful links (such as classroom-specific resources) but also:
a featured article about something that happened during the current week in history called “This Week Then“
historical news bits with links to related articles called “News Then, History Now“
links to articles about things that happened on today’s date called “Today in Washington History“
links to the newest articles on the site
a featured historical image
a “Quote of the Week“
The Oregon site is called simply The Oregon Encyclopedia. Assembled under the auspices of the Oregon Historical Society, it, too, offers thousands of articles that cover all aspects of the state’s history (and pre-history).
a link for educators that includes access to pre-prepared “Primary Source Packets“
a variety of sample articles focused on important subjects
suggestions for especially intriguing reads
a link to an interactive map of notable places, people, and events in Oregon history
a link to the Oregon Historical Society’s digital resources and online narratives
a feature called “The Corner Gallery,” focused on a subject of current interest (right now, its focus is Indigenous Peoples Day and it offers related links)
MONTANA AND IDAHO
Although Montana and Idaho don’t have websites dedicated to them that are as extensive and entertaining to read, you can find many useful links to online resources and articles on pages offered by their respective historical societies:
The Pacific Northwest has a large number of quality publishers—some larger, some smaller, some known across the country, some known only to a few thankful readers. One thing almost all of them have in common is publishing Northwest writers who write about their home region in memoirs, essays, histories, fiction or poetry.
Below are thirteen you should know about, along with quotes from their websites about what they offer and a representative sampling of their books about the Northwest.
Just click on any title for a full description of the book.
“The University of Washington Press is the oldest and largest publisher of scholarly and general interest books in the Pacific Northwest. We publish compelling and transformative work with regional, national, and global impact.”
“For sixty years, Oregon State University Press has been publishing exceptional books about the Pacific Northwest—its people and landscapes, its flora and fauna, its history and cultural heritage.”
Mink River by Brian Doyle (“It’s the tale of a town, written in a distinct and lyrical voice, and readers will close the book more than a little sad to leave the village of Neawanaka, on the wet coast of Oregon, beneath the hills that used to boast the biggest trees in the history of the world.”–a much-beloved debut novel by one of the NW’s most distinctive voices.)
The Brightwood Stillness by Mark Pomeroy (“With its vivid look at friendship and the challenges of cross-cultural communication, its poignant take on the legacy of Vietnam, and its Pacific Northwest setting, The Brightwood Stillness will remind readers of the best elements of A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain and Snow Falling on Cedars…”)
Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hell’s Canyon by R. Gregory Nokes (A former AP & Oregonian reporter digs for the truth behind the 1887 massacre of 30 Chinese gold miners on the Oregon side of Hell’s Canyon. Along the way, he “examines the once-substantial presence of Chinese laborers in the interior Pacific Northwest…“)
“Our passion is telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest—lesser-known yet fascinating accounts of people, places, and events that matter in the region’s history or culture and are part of the broad picture of Western expansion.”
Teaching Native Pride: Upward Bound and the Legacy of Isabel Bond by Tony Tekaroniake Evans (“Native and non-Native voices tell the story of the federally sponsored Upward Bound program at the University of Idaho, intertwining personal anecdotes and memories with accounts of the program’s inception and goals, as well as regional Native American history and Isabel Bond’s Idaho family history.”)
Writing the Northwest: A Reporter Looks Back by Hill Williams (“Award-winning, amiable journalist Hill Williams…transforms his stories into inviting, candid narratives about Hanford, Celilo Falls, whale-hunters, salmon researchers, growing up on the dry side of Washington, and more.”)
Queen of Spades by Michael Shou-Yung Shum (“With a breathtaking climax that rivals the best Hong Kong gambling movies, Michael Shou-Yung Shum’s debut novel delivers the thrilling highs and lows that come when we cede control of our futures to the roll of the dice and the turn of a card.”)
A Simplified Map of the Real World by Steven Allred (Named a #1 book of 2013 in the Powell’s Staff Top 5s and a 2014 Multnomah County Library PageTurners Book Club Pick. “Fifteen linked stories chart a true course through the lives of families, farmers, loggers, former classmates, and the occasional stripper.”)
This Particular Happinessby Jackie Shannon Hollis (“When Jackie Shannon Hollis marries Bill, a man who does not want children, she joyfully commits to a childless life. But soon after the wedding, she returns to the family ranch in rural Oregon and holds her newborn niece. Jackie falls deep into baby love and longing and begins to question her decision.“)
“Based in Seattle for over 30 years, Sasquatch Books, together with our children’s imprint, Little Bigfoot, publishes books by the most gifted writers, artists, chefs, naturalists, and thought leaders in the Pacific Northwest and on the West Coast…“
Chief Seattle and the Town that Took His Name by David M. Buerge (“This is the first thorough historical account of Chief Seattle and his times–the story of a half-century of tremendous flux, turmoil, and violence, during which a native American war leader became an advocate for peace and strove to create a successful hybrid racial community.”)
“Ooligan Press is a student-run trade press rooted in the Pacific Northwest dedicated to cultivating the next generation of publishing professionals. We prioritize literary equity and inclusion. Ooligan strives to publish culturally relevant titles from our local, marginalized voices in order to make literature accessible and redefine who has a place within its pages.”
Faultland by Suzy Vitello (As the Sparrow family’s shaky foundations collide, an earthquake levels their city [Portland] in this debut novel.)
Oregon Stories, edited by Ooligan Press (“This collection of 150 personal narratives from everyday Oregonians explores the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the people who live in this unique state.”)
“Copper Canyon Press publishes new collections of poetry by both revered and emerging American poets, translations of classical and contemporary work from many of the world’s cultures, re-issues of out-of-print poetry classics, anthologies, and prose books about poetry.”
After the Point of No Return by David Wagoner (“In After the Point of No Return, Wagoner finds wonder in the world of the senses as he reveals the melodies of an ancient rainforest, remembers boyhood rituals, and captures the swift movement of a fox at the edge of vision.”)
The Novice Insomniac by Emily Warn (“Whether invoking the persona of Esther to examine Jewish culture, musing upon the threatened landscape of her native Northwest, or witnessing the frustration of the insomniac’s darkened domain, [Warn’s] poems offer solace to what is most vulnerable in this world.”)
“Our independent press publishes high-quality literary projects and distributes titles from like-minded publishers.
Gielgud by Dan DeWeese (“In scenes of humor, anxiety, tenderness, and desire, Gielgud chronicles men and women who, in a world of streaming video and nonstop commentary, quietly struggle through personal crises almost entirely unobserved.”)
A Simple Machine, Like the Lever by Evan P. Schneider (“Nick’s struggle to position his aesthetic within the world is the story of a perfectionist who is far from perfect, who is considerate but clumsy, and may be invisible. Like Nick, A Simple Machine, Like the Lever is short, toned, observant, generous, purposeful, and brimming with bicycle wisdom.“)
“CALYX exists to nurture women’s creativity by publishing fine literature and art by women.”
Harvest by Barbara Baldwin (“Embracing both the personal and the universal—from her love of nature viewed from her home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to the realities of love, life, and loss—this intensely powerful collection stands as a tribute to a wife and environmentalist, mother and activist, and, above all, a writer.”)
Indian Singing by Gail Tremblay (“Indian Singing is not a quiet book; the musical poetry of Gail Tremblay demands to be read, sung, out loud. Her poetry is a visionary quest, a work of hope presenting enduring lessons to accommodate change in our troubled times.“)
“Black Heron Press is a literary press located in Seattle, Washington.”
North Fork by Wayne M. Johnston (“The three main characters tell their stories separately as first-person written responses to an English class assignment to keep a personal journal. Each struggles to face life with integrity while entangled in a web of difficult situations. To triumph, each must confront the challenge of forgiveness.”)
The Remains of River Names by Matt Briggs (“The novel is told in twelve linked stories, each of which is a chapter told in turn by the members of a counter-culture family in the process of destroying itself.”)
“Hawthorne Books is an independent literary press based in Portland, Oregon, with a national scope and deep regional roots.”
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch (2012 Finalist, Pen Center Creative Nonfiction Award. “This is not your mother’s memoir.”)
Little Green by Loretta Stinson (“Like Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Loretta Stinson portrays the psychology of a woman who has experienced violence at the hands of someone she loves and the complexity of leaving with sensitivity and insight.”)
Wolves in the Land of Salmonby David Moskowitz (“Observing [wolves] at close range, David Moskowitz explores how they live, hunt, and communicate, tracing their biology and ecology through firsthand encounters in the wildlands of the Northwest.“)
“With more than 700 titles in print, Mountaineers Books [specializes in] outdoor recreation, sustainable lifestyle, and conservation titles, published respectively under our Mountaineers Books, Skipstone, and Braided River imprints.”
Crags, Eddies and RipRap: The Sound Country Memoir of Wolf Bauer by Lynn Hyde and Wolf Bauer (“Bauer was a whirlwind of outdoor pursuits that inspired some of America’s greatest climbers. And as an engineer, he developed methods for preserving coastlines that have been adversely impacted by human development…He was one of those unsung Amercan heroes who moved ahead each day to make a difference and, in his hurry, ended up creating a legacy of accomplishment that many of us now lean on today.”)