One of the Portland metropolitan area’s most interesting and vital cultural organizations is The Immigrant Story, whose purpose is exactly that: to tell the stories of newcomers to Oregon from around the globe, how they got here, what they bring with them, and how they’ve become part of the larger mosaic of American life. The stories are told in many ways, from gallery shows to podcasts to written stories to films to live performances.
At a time of neo-nativism and a rising reactionary anti-immigrant movement seeking to shut the borders, the act of telling these stories and listening to them is necessary and illuminating. The Americas, after all, are continents peopled by waves of immigration, from the exploration and settlement by Indigenous groups beginning perhaps 20,000 years ago to today’s newcomers seeking political sanctuary or economic and cultural opportunity. At an early point many European immigrants began to see themselves as the “true” Americans, the ones who set the rules, often denying the legitimacy of those who came before and after. Yet this exclusionary belief denies the richness and strength that a more welcoming and cosmopolitan culture builds.
You can hear a handful of these countervailing stories at the free event “I Am an American Live,” from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, at the First Congregational Church, 1126 S.W. Park Ave. in downtown Portland. This edition of storytelling, presented in collaboration with the group Oregon Rises Above Hate, concentrates on the tales of immigrants from Asia, and carries the subtitle “Stories of Exclusion and Belonging.” It promises both: personal tales of the history and effects of anti-Asian attitudes and actions in the United States, and personal tales of becoming citizens and enriching the larger culture.
The evening will begin with music from a quartet of Oregon Symphony musicians of Asian descent — violinists Keiko Araki and Shin-young Kwon, violist Ningning Jin, cellist Pansy Chang — who will play music by contemporary Chinese composers.
The evening’s four storytellers are likely to bring nuanced tales, without pulling punches. “The title, ‘I Am An American,’ was intentionally chosen to bring attention to the 80 years that have passed since the federal government sent more than 100,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps in the early days of World War II,” a statement from The Immigrant Story declares. “At the time, ‘I Am an American’ was a rallying cry for all Asian Americans.”
Storytellers will include Janet Liu, Liani Reeves, Jane Vogel Mantiri, and Peggy Nagae, and their tales will be in some ways similar and in some ways highly individual. Reeves, for instance, the first Asian American president of the Oregon State Bar, notes: “As international adoptees, our stories are often missing from the immigration narrative. I am honored to have the opportunity to tell my story as an involuntary immigrant who has faced complex issues of identity and belonging on the path to becoming an American.”
What’s up at the Portland Chinatown Museum
Speaking of Asian American citizens and historical anti-Chinese sentiments in the United States, Russell N. Low will give a virtual Zoom talk from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, about his book The All-American Crew: A True Story of a World War II Bomber and the Men Who Flew It. The talk, sponsored by the Portland Chinatown Museum, is partly about the story of two young Chinese American brothers who enlist in the Army Air Force in World War II and fight in the Pacific Theater: They were part of about 20,000 Chinese Americans who fought in the U.S. forces during the war, some of whom died before the 61-year-old Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in December 1943. You can sign up for the talk here.
And don’t forget Illuminating Time, the museum’s show of work by its 2022 resident artists, which opens Thursday, Nov. 10, and runs through January 2023. It features work by residents Shu-Ju Wang, Alex Chiu, and Sam Roxas-Chua 姚 (Yao), and is curated by Horatio Law. ArtsWatch will have more complete coverage of the exhibit at a later date.
Off to Paris in a snap
Most of the time, what most art galleries do is to present shows by local or regional artists, usually with a revolving cast of featured artists every month. But art is also a national and international game, and several Portland galleries jump into the waters of art fairs scattered all over the globe, taking their artists’ work to potential buyers on a much broader scale.
This week the venerable Elizabeth Leach Gallery is spending time in Paris for Paris Photo, the big international art fair dedicated to photographic art, which has been drawing dealers, collectors, and the just plain curious each November since 1997. The Portland gallery will be showing work by Dinh Q. Lê, Justine Kurland, Robert Lyons, and Malia Jensen at this year’s fair, which runs Thursday-Sunday, Nov. 10-13. If you happen to be taking in the Parisian sights, the gallery will be at Booth B-27.
Farewell, Gwyneth Gamble Booth
Gwyneth Gamble Booth, a longtime Portland philanthropist, journalist, and supporter of the arts, died Oct. 25 at age 86. Jeff Manning has written a good obituary for The Oregonian/Oregon Live. The daughter of a pioneering Seattle broadcast journalist, she hosted a weekly newsmagazine show on OPB after moving to Portland, and became active in both business and cultural life.
She served on the boards of the Portland Japanese Garden, the Portland Art Museum, and the Regional Arts and Culture Council, as well as the Dougy Center. With her second husband, the late Brian Booth, she was known widely in the city’s literary circles. “She was breaking glass ceilings before that was a thing,” Manning quotes her daughter, Elizabeth Gamble Caldwell.
Native American Arts & Salmon Festival
A quick trip across the Columbia River this weekend to Vancouver, Wash., will bring you to the Native American Arts & Salmon Festival at the Fort Vancouver Visitor Center, 1501 East Evergreen Blvd. The celebration, sponsored by Friends of Fort Vancouver and the National Park Service, is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11-12, it’s all ages, and admission is free.
Work by prominent Northwest Indigenous artists including Lillian Pitt, Greg Robinson, Brigettte McConville, Jolene Pitt, Amy Kapualani-Antonio, Ceara Lewis, and others will be on hand, representing Warm Springs, Wasco, Yakama, Chinookan, Cherokee, Nez Perce, Native Hawaiian, and Alaskan Native traditions; and at 1 p.m. Friday Cherokee flutist Robin Gentlewolf will present an interactive program.