Community Corner: Chinese Historical Society In San Francisco Celebrates Milestones

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – The Chinese Historical Society of America, founded in 1963, is the oldest and largest organization in the country dedicated to the documentation, study, and presentation of Chinese American history. They are preparing to celebrate quite a few milestones: their golden anniversary is coming up in two years, the 10-year anniversary for the museum is in November, and the annual gala honoring San Francisco’s first Asian American mayor, Ed Lee, is coming up September 17th.

CHSA will be celebrating their 50-year anniversary in 2013. Sue Lee, Executive Director of the Chinese Historical Society of America, said 50 years ago there were about 35,000 Chinese people in San Francisco and they were not part of the overall civic life. Chinatown was a big tourist destination but the people were not engaged in civic life. A lot has changed since then especially with the appointment of Ed Lee as mayor of the city.

KCBS’ Connie C. Kim talks to CHSA Executive Director Sue Lee:

The founders of CHSA created the organization because they thought no one was telling their story. They wanted Chinese people to talk about Chinese history

Ten years ago, the group purchased the Julia Morgan-designed Chinatown YWCA building and established the Chinese Historical Society Museum. Through publications, exhibits, and oral histories from the community elders a collection of stories was built up over the years.

After a decade, the group has decided to focus more on the museum and use current technology and media to tell their stories.

Through the ongoing exhibits and educational programs, CHSA promotes the contributions and legacy of Chinese America.

“We’re really an American story,” Lee explained. “The traveling and rotating exhibits take episodes of our story and tie them into the grander American history.”

One current exhibition, Finding Jake Lee, shows a collection of rare paintings most thought were lost. Recovered from an art auction in Pasadena, these were paintings commissioned for a San Francisco Chinatown restaurant called Johnny Kan’s in the 1960s. There are 12 watercolor murals depicting contributions of Chinese laborers to building the west.

Lee hopes the museum will continue to educate the public of the Chinese contribution to American society as well as the history of San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Being a nonprofit organization, CHSA is always looking for volunteers – people who like to tell stories can become docents, and they don’t have to be Chinese but you should have a San Francisco connection. Volunteers are also needed to staff the museum and help out with special events.

The Voice & Vision Gala Fundraiser on September 17, 6:00pm, will be at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco.

For more information on the Chinese Historical Society of San Francisco, the upcoming gala, and volunteer opportunities go to

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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