The racial justice movement sparked by the death of George Floyd has caused many cities to examine their history of race relations. Lake Oswego is no exception. The city’s reputation as an exclusive white enclave has made it a poster child for white privilege. But was it always this way? These articles explore what census records reveal about people of color who lived in Oswego during its first 80 years.
ASIAN FARMERS IN OSWEGO
The farming community was one of the few places where Asian immigrants and white families formed personal relationships in the nineteenth century. Since Chinese immigrants were not allowed to own property, many of them worked as hired hands for white farmers. Agricultural work was second nature to the majority of workers who came from farming villages in the Toisan region of southern China.
Local families often provided living accommodations for their Chinese workers. In an interview published in the oral history titled In Their Own Words, Maude Grimm described the Shipley farm on Stafford Road. “There was a wood shed, with rooms above for the hired help, some of whom were Chinese. The favorite servant was Chung, who insisted on living in a small place of his own by the creek back of the house.” The Kruse family also employed Chinese workers, one of whom was named Jim Bow. Since most of these workers left no descendants, the only reason we have their portraits is because they were preserved by the families who employed them.
In a 1991 exhibition catalog titled Gum San: Land of the Golden Mountain, Jeffrey Barlow and Christine Richardson wrote that the Chinese “were destined to live out their lives in America deprived of the greatest form of wealth: children.” They noted that a ubiquitous feature of the decor in the West’s dying Chinatowns were pictures of children cut out from magazines, “tiny symbols of the natural family life so dear to Chinese people, and denied to them here.”
Some of the most vivid recollections of the aging Chinese bachelors come from white children who saw them with a child’s special mixture of curiosity, affection, and prankishness. Oswego resident Hazel DeChaine described her curiosity about a Chinese farm hand who worked in the field next to her school.
“The children would come up to the fence…and say, ‘Chin, Chin, Chinaman, sitting on a rail, blackbird, blackbird snap off his tail.’ And, of course, he would get so angry at us. He was quite a mystery to us anyway because he had this long queue. Then the next time he would come and be so hot and we would give him something to drink. He was a dear anyway.”In Their Own Words
Mary Ann Worthington Lorenz recalled,
“There were two Chinese that had a little cabin down below us and they cut wood. Dad was always fond of them. They were nice fellows. They would always bring us Chinese candy on holidays. I had a girl friend I had been playing with and we were coming home. And as we got near this Chinese place, this girl taught me how to say a Chinese swear word. And when we got up by the cabin why I went and yelled this word at them. And he picked up a stick and run me all the way home and talked to my father. And my father would never let me play with this girl again. This was about 1905.”In Their Own Words
In 1937, a letter appeared in the Oregonian under the title “Coolie Friends.” Mary Agnes Kelly wrote that the continued outrages against the Chinese had awakened vivid memories of the coolie laborers her father employed on his farm.
First in the field was old Han…clever as Mother Invention herself, plucking leaves from the grapevines and laying them on water-filled oil cans to obviate spilling, then jog-trotting out to the field with them slung over his shoulder at the ends of a carrying pole.
And then there was Gee, best beloved, longest in service….dining with chopsticks on bowls of imported rice, bits of pork and various greens from the plot by their sway-backed little hut burrowed close to a hillside. O! the stick-and-mud fireplace, the queer Chinese smell, the beds with their wooden-block “pillows,” the long jade-trimmed pipes for sickeningly sweetened tobacco!
The joy of a Chinese New Year! A delegation, decked in best Chinese costume, cloth shoes, immaculate hose and close-fitting caps with a hard, bright button on top, would appear bearing gifts for all in the house. Silk handkerchiefs in vermillion or jade, purple or orange, for father and white hired men; reed-wrapped jars of ginger, a Cantonese bowl, or a sheaf of gay paper flowers for mother; and for Lizzie and us children, brown cornucopia bags filled with veritable bits of the orient: lichee nuts in crisp, filigreed shells, candied pears, citron, cocoanut shavings, kumquats and limes; and last, but not least, cylindrical rolls of plump tallow cakes, thickly studded with squash seeds.
Around 1901, when the Chinese population was beginning to decline due to the effect of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese immigration began to increase. Several Japanese families settled in the Hazelia area near Stafford Road. Census records list individuals by the name of Ono, Hayashi, Kashihara, Hata, Nogiri, Tomoda, Hadika, Kimura, and Hinatsu. Some of them worked as hired hands for local farmers and others, including Shinkichi Hayashi, K. Hadika, S. Hata and Sataro Hinatsu, had their own farms.
The Hinatsu family lived in Hazelia from around 1910 to 1936. They raised fruits and vegetables. Their eight sons attended the Hazelia School. Like all Japanese on the West Coast, they were interned during World War II and never returned to Oswego. Four of their sons served in the military during World War II. Kazuo and Shigeru Hinatsu served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was the most decorated combat unit in U.S. history.
This year is the 170th anniversary of Lake Oswego’s founding. With all that has happened in 2020, it is easy to forget that this is a census year. What will the 2020 census reveal about racial diversity in Lake Oswego? Census records show that people of color were among Oswego’s earliest residents. In this year of racial reckoning, they deserve to be remembered.