The many contributions of Asian Americans in Riverside are now archived for the first time on the World Wide Web, complete with oral histories, photographs and links for further research.
"When I first moved to Riverside in 1996, I wanted to know why there were so few Asian Americans here," said UC Riverside Professor Deborah Wong, who used a $10,000 grant from the California Council for the Humanities to help fund the research for the site at www.asianamericanriverside.ucr.edu. "What I found was a long, yet little-known story about the city's vibrant Asian community, and I was seized by the desire to tell that story."
"Asian American Riverside" is the end result. It is intended to be a resource for local schools, for historians and for the community at large. Several familiar names are there, including Doi's Farm in La Sierra, the Harada family home, the Chinese pavilion in front of the Riverside Public Library, headstones in Olivewood Memorial Park, the former Chungking CafÃ©, the Lao Buddhist temple, and Riverside's two Chinatowns.
A highlight is an extensive oral history from Japanese American Alice Kanda, born Sumie Gotori, who grew up in the Casa Blanca neighborhood during the 1920s and 1930s. Her mother ran a local grocery store there."The older generation called her 'mama'," Kanda recalled in an oral history interview. "And on weekends, when my mother had the store closed on Sundays, they'd come knocking on the back door if they needed milk or something..Even after the war, she'd be working in the garden and my dad would be gone and they'd go in the store and get bread or something and they'd tell Mama, 'I got a loaf of bread' in Spanish, and 'I put the money on the cash register.' During those days you could trust most everyone."
The Gotori family was forcibly relocated to a camp in Poston, Ariz. during World War II, when all Japanese Americans were removed from Riverside.
Gen and Dolly Ogata, founders of the local chapter of the Japanese American Citizen's League, described their move to Riverside in 1954. Later they helped create a sister city relationship between Riverside and Sendai, Japan.
"Asian immigrants and Americans of Asian descent have made a real impact on Riverside, even though their contributions have sometimes been made in contexts of racist discrimination and hostility," Wong said. "And since Asian immigration continues to this day, the site is as much about the present diversity of Riverside, as it is about the past."
Wong teaches world music and is the author of the 2004 book, Speak It Louder: Asian Americans Making Music. She invites inquiries about the website and hopes that it will inspire further research.
She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.