An Evening in Chinatown
For a few lovely hours this past Thursday, I was immersed in our community’s cultural diversity and heartened by an abundance of good will. I pocketed the uneasy reality that we remain a town that is over 70 percent white, haunted by a shameful, racist past. Oregon is, after all, the state that explicitly forbade African-Americans from living within our borders when we entered the Union in 1859, the state that routinely harassed, attacked and often expelled its Chinese residents. Not exactly a shining example of tolerance.
But on this night, there was celebration as the new Portland Chinatown Museum, located at 127 NW 3rd Av, opened its doors to the public. The space was brimming with cheerful faces, both Chinese and not, justly proud to have been part of a four-year collaboration to preserve this neighborhood’s rich stories and their place in our shared history. The inaugural exhibit by renowned photographer Dean Wong provides a rare glimpse into the vibrancy and complexity of Chinatown's residents, past and present. Eventually, the museum will house a permanent exhibit entitled Beyond the Gate. But this is more than a tourist destination. The Chinese Historical Foundation is also anchored here and plans to address timely issues like immigration, national and ethnic identity, gender and race. I encourage you to visit and contribute at www.portlandchinatownmuseum.org
In search of a libation to mark the occasion, my husband and I happened upon the recently restored Society Hotel located just up the street at NW 3rd Av & Davis. (Check out their journal and take an online peek at thesocietyhotel.com.) Like the museum, it’s part of the city’s $57 million renewal plan for Old Town/Chinatown. The 1881 building that once served as a boarding house for sailors is now a trendy boutique hotel complete with rooftop garden. How could we resist? Atop the hotel, we were treated to tasty wines from grapes planted, tended, harvested, fermented, bottled and poured by visiting winemaker Bartony Faustin of Abbey Creek Vineyard in North Plains. Bartony has a story worth sharing. The son of Haitian immigrants, he is the first recorded Black winemaker in Oregon. He has a big presence and an infectious smile. Waiting for my pour, I noticed a promotional postcard with an enticing graphic: Red White and Black: The Oregon Wine Story. As it turns out, this busy entrepreneur and family man also produced a documentary highlighting the challenges and accomplishments of winemakers of color and those of the LGBTQ community who have traditionally been excluded from the predominantly white, high brow industry. I shook his hand and wished him luck. “Luck doesn’t have much to do with it,” he responded with a sparkle in his eyes. He radiates positive energy and determination. Click here to learn more at www.abbeycreekvineyard.com
I took my glass of Tempranillo and drank in the expansive view of Portland, the modern and historic sharing space on the skyline. We sat at the only available spot, and struck up a conversation with a young couple visiting from Manchester, England.
I do so love the Portland that we can be, that we should strive to be every day. I am mindful of Portland’s past, but I hold onto the hope that we can become a more diverse, welcoming and equitable community.