LEWISTON — The story of the Chinese in Lewiston has been well documented, but only up to a point.Many know how the gold rush drew thousands of Chinese to the area in the late 1800s. Lesser known is the story of those who remained into the next century, putting down roots and becoming part of the community.
That story is now told in the new documentary film “Good Neighbors: Legacy of the American Chinese in Lewiston, Idaho,” premiering tonight, March 9, and a companion exhibit opening Friday, March 10 at the Nez Perce County Historical Society Museum.
“I feel like I’ve been on a fascinating journey,” said Lewiston filmmaker Patricia Keith, who will show the film at the Lewis-Clark State College Silverthorne Theater. “I didn’t have a map when I started. I had no idea some of this documentation would be available.”
Keith’s journey began with the descendants of Chinese immigrants who opened restaurants in Lewiston: Vincent Tsang, whose parents started Golden Dragon Restaurant; Tammy Lee-McCammon, whose great-grandfather Ted Loy opened the Raymond Cafe; and Bob and Bill Eng,
whose father founded George’s. The families contributed artifacts, photos and interviews for the film and the exhibit that features vintage dishes, embroidered cloth napkins, cooking utensils and other items used at the establishments.
Tracing the immigrants’ paths back in time led Keith to the National Archives and Records Administration in Seattle where she found thick files documenting their travels to and from the United States. Keith said she was stunned to discover that some files contained 14 to 15 pages of typescript from interrogations where the immigrants were asked detailed questions about seemingly unimportant things, such as how many steps it was from their home in China to the nearest well and whether or not their neighbor had bound feet or natural feet.
Another invaluable resource was the Lewiston Tribune, Keith said. A story from World War II announced that local Chinese New Year celebrations were canceled and donations would instead be made to the Red Cross. Another article noted how George Eng served a chow mein supper to Lewiston High School teachers.
“It’s pretty clear the Chinese community was not off the radar of the local newspaper,” Keith said.
Orders for DVD copies of the 62-minute film will be taken at tonight’s premiere. It will also be for sale at a later date at the museum. The exhibit will be on display for about a year, said historical society Executive Director Leah Boots.
If You Go
What: “Good Neighbors: Legacy of the American Chinese in Lewiston, Idaho”
When and Where:
— 7 tonight (Thursday, March 9) – Documentary film premiere at Lewis-Clark State College Silverthorne Theater, free.
— 2 to 4 p.m. Friday, March 10 – Exhibit opens at Nez Perce County Historical Society Museum, admission $4 for adults, $2 ages 11-17, free children 10 and younger. Refreshments to be provided by Golden Dragon Restaurant.