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Life Beyond Work

Chinese laundry owner and family, PH037-9291The Tigers of Pendleton, PH036-0297New Era Chinese BandParson MotanicParson MotanicJames Wasson of Portland

Community life helped sustain many minority groups in the face of adversity. Communities offered common cultural values, a shared language, family networks, an understanding of the hardships imposed by racist laws and attitudes, and some security. Entertainment sometimes offered bridges between cultures, and athletic prowess could be admired despite gender or race.

In Pendleton, Chinese immigrants developed a system of underground tunnels that allowed them to conduct business and life independently of white residents, and gave them haven after curfew. Other communities lived in more conventional settlements. In 1942, the town of Vanport was built on the south bank of the Columbia River to house the influx of wartime shipyard workers, many of whom were African-American. In 1948, a flood eradicated Vanport, and many of its residents relocated to the Albania district of Portland.

Minority civic life and leisure activities often paralleled that of white communities, without coming into much direct contact with them. Black churches such as Portland’s Bethel A.M.E. Church were hubs for the African-American community, providing social and spiritual support for their members. Fraternal lodges such as the Elks and Odd Fellows organized African-American chapters, some with women’s auxiliaries. Women’s clubs practiced traditional handicrafts, performed music, and nurtured political influence. The Chinese community operated a theater in Portland, performing traditional Chinese music and opera, and coming into conflict with white lawmakers over noise regulations. African-American baseball teams played as independent clubs until the Negro National League formed in 1920.

Japanese and Japanese-Americans in Oregon made concerted efforts to merge smoothly with white society, in part by forming associations to provide cultural leadership. The Japanese Association of Oregon and the Portland-based Japanese American Citizens’ League both developed early in the twentieth century and fostered cultural integration. The Portland YWCA became a popular site for American-born Japanese girls and women to participate in cultural programs with both minority and white peers. Even after their relocation to Oregon’s relocation camps in 1942, Japanese and Japanese Americans maintained a strong community infrastructure. Many camp residents organized and published newspapers as a means of preserving their voice and documenting their experiences. A collection of these newspapers is available from Knight Library's Microforms Department.

Minority communities often developed their own newspapers. The Advocate, published 1903-1933 in Portland, was one of the African-American newspapers, used by its editors—including Beatrice Cannady—to promote business and advocate for political activism. Newspapers offered news from the home nation for immigrants, provided conduits for social, educational and legal information, and helped organize for change. Above all they gave a voice to communities ignored by general newspapers. Many of these historic community newspapers have been lost or survive only in scattered issues.

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Next: The Yasui Legacy

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Last revision: 8/8/05 by N. Helmer
Created by Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries