Nurturing Community, Amplifying Voice —
Chinese Whispers: Golden Gate
One thing for sure – we don’t sit around here at CW! We’re gearing up for our crowdfunding campaign for Chinese Whispers: Golden GateSM, our flagship storytelling production about the Bay Area. This theater production will combine historical stories with contemporary immigrant stories from our workshops with the Chinatown Y, to connect past and present. The production will include a custom soundscape and projections, and incorporate new stories from our research into Chinese shrimping. More soon – stay tuned!
Reviving A Forgotten 100-Year Legacy — Chinese Whispers: Bay Chronicles
We want to make sure that the forgotten history of Chinese shrimp fishing around San Francisco Bay doesn’t stay forgotten, so we created Chinese Whispers: Bay ChroniclesSM. Over two fine weeks in September, our interdisciplinary team of artists and environmental scientists set sail on the 43-foot, replica 19th century SF Bay junk Grace Quan to retrace this history around the Bay.
Our route took us to former shrimping sites from China Camp in the North Bay to Richmond in the East Bay, then to Redwood City in the South Bay, and back up to Bayview Hunters Point in SF, completing the loop at China Camp. Along the way, we also brought this history to local communities in three unique public events in Richmond, Bayview, and China Camp.
Words can’t do justice to the richness and complexity of the experience: it was amazing, moving, humbling, exciting, challenging, and truly inspiring. In this edition of the newsletter we'll share a couple of the many highlights, watch for the next episodes! We especially want to thank our collaborator, the SF Maritime National Historical Park, for the sails on the Park's Grace Quan, and skipper John C. Muir and the Park's staff and volunteer crew.
Bringing A Vision Into Reality
We are very excited about Chinese Whispers: Bay Chronicles as a transdisciplinary work that connects art, humanities, science, and civic engagement to bridge communities and place, and bring history to life in a fresh, meaningful way that people can experience. It is inspiring to be at the hub as CW Director Rene Yung's vision unfolds after months of planning and research, and hours of teamwork. The project will culminate in a multimedia art installation at the Park next Fall.
Videographer Chihiro Wimbush captured the voyage and actions on board, including with GoPro cameras; sound artist Jeremiah Moore had mics attached to every kind of surface of the junk, and monitored sonic nuances in wind and sail; photographer Gordon Szeto recorded the expedition sights and escapades; and CW designer and all-around wiz Dorothy Mak provided tech support.
Poring over historical maps of the areas that we were sailing through, Project Director Rene Yung and San Francisco Estuary Institute scientists examined parallels between changes in the cultural and ecological landscapes, and their intersection with Chinese shrimp fishing history. The skillful sail crew taught us about reading the waves and how the tides controlled the expedition, and we all fell in love with the beautiful junk as she carried us on our journey.
At the height of Chinese shrimp fishing in the late 1890's, 26 shrimp camps ringed SF Bay. We are particularly thrilled to "rediscover" some of the lesser-known sites in the South Bay, which have been all but erased from public memory. With the help of historical maps, photos, and texts, we began to locate these vanished camps on today’s landscape. It was both exhilarating and poignant.
Frank Quan,the 89 year-old, lone resident of China Camp Village and bearer of shrimp fishing lore, joined us on some of the sails. It was a rare privilege to listen to Frank talk about former shrimping grounds in the Bay as we sailed over open expanses of blue-green water seemingly unmarked by time, and we pondered what had changed, and what might have remained the same.
The expedition was a journey through time marked by often-jarring contrasts, as well as lyrical glimpses into remnants of Bay edgelands that suggest the former environments of the Chinese fishery.
Since we couldn’t bring the public on the sails, we brought the expedition to the public in three site-specifid programs. Each location was important in the history of Chinese shrimp fishing, and also reflects the Bay Area's diverse communities today.
A stimulating panel of speakers helped us kick off the events at the beautiful Craneway Pavilion, a soaring 1931 structure that once housed the Ford auto assembly plant in Richmond, which was home to a number of early shrimp camps. We had a heart-warming community gathering at EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park in Bayview Hunters Point in San Francisco, with moving community stories about the historical diversity of the neighborhood, and everyone was happily fortified by a delicious lunch from Radio Africa & Kitchen. The largest group of Bay Chinese shrimp camps, including the last shrimping company, was in Hunters Point.
We celebrated the conclusion of the sails at China Camp State Park in San Rafael, which has vestiges of the only remaining historical Chinese shrimp camp. Talented young lion dancers from Marin Community Cultural Association delighted visitors with a lively performance and greeted the voyagers at the dock. After all the excitement of the previous week, we wrapped up the afternoon with a reflective Walk of Remembrance to commemorate the people and places of this history which had slipped into the recesses of time.
Our Village, Our Gratitude
We are grateful to the Creative Work Fund for enabling us to begin resuscitating this history of Chinese shrimp fishing around the Bay. A HUGE thank you to all our partners, sponsors, supporters, and volunteers, for being part of the village that came together to make the sails and public programs possible. And our warmest thanks to everyone who came to the public events.
Stay tuned for the next phase of CW Bay Chronicles as we continue to bring this forgotten chapter of Bay Area history back into view.
—The Chinese Whispers Team
Photo Credit: Ethan Bien, Jeff K. Lee, Gordon Szeto, Alan Nguyen, Rene Yung
Wishing you a Fall season full of gracious bounty!
Meet the CW Community
Meet our growing community here! The CW Community is made up of all kinds of people spanning generations -- professionals, scholars, retirees, students, "regular folks" who joined us to bring forgotten stories to light.