If the walls could talk, what would they say? Would they tell the tale of a local family whose roots run deep in the heart of the Kittitas Valley? A family that built its ties to the community through the sweat and energy of its own labor.

Would they tell of only the joy and good times like owning and operating a successful business or would they talk about racial exclusion and one family’s secret just to fit in. If the walls could talk, what would they say?

As the group of local school teachers and educators wandered through the corridors the New York Cafe building on the corner of Third and Main Saturday afternoon they marveled at the ongoing construction that still had some of the original beams and continued to hold strong a piece of downtown Ellensburg history in a place once called China Town.

Where Chinese communities in coastal towns like Seattle or San Francisco stretch on for blocks, even miles. Ellensburg’s China Town consisted of the area between Main and Water, from Second to Third Avenue and the New York Cafe was the cornerstone.

The tour was sponsored by the Kittitas County Historical Museum and Wing Luke Museum as part of a workshop, detailing the Chinese history in Ellensburg and Central Washington. Members of the Huie family, whose parents Pak and Hong Huie owned and operated the New York Cafe Chinese restaurant for years led the way, describing areas of family history and what it was like growing up in an 85 percent anglo world.

“I had people come up to me an ask me to say something like I should know the language even though I was born here,” said Carrie Huie-Pascua, who graduated from Central Washington University with a bachelor’s degree.and a Masters from San Francisco State University in clinical psychology.

Her brother Richard was the oldest of the five Huie siblings taking part in the workshop.

“I graduated from Ellensburg High School in 1967. The Vietnam War was in full swing,” Richard recalled. “People considered me pretty tough, like I knew Kung Fu or something, so they left me alone.

“I worked at the restaurant since I was 9. So I went to work after school, stayed to myself.”

Here in October of the of Year of the Pig, these particular educators were being educated on Washington state Chinese-American history, not by historical archives or internet search engines, but by first-generation Chinese-American born, whose parents and ancestors lived through the climate of racial exclusion, called the Chinese Exclusion Act.

“I see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Mike McClosky, who teaches history over at Morgan Middle School.

GIVING VOICE TO PAST GENERATIONS

No the walls of the New York Cafe, established in 1911 remained silent. But the children of Pak and Hong Huie gave a voice to the past generations who endured the racism brought about by the first law in America that barred people from immigrating into the United States based on a specific ethnic or national group.

It was originally meant to be a temporary ban, but lasted 61 years and wasn’t fully repealed until 1965. Where American history tends to find acts of decency and good behavior to cover its tracks of attempted genocide or deceit, this particular group of educators was able to learn first hand.

“My parents always supported us. They told us to do well, but don’t attract attention. Always try to fly under the radar,” said Huie-Pascua. “They always told us to be invisible and not to stand out. I’m retired now, but my entire career has been about advocacy for the Asian community. In thinking about my career now, I was able to provide them with that voice.”

Carrie’s brothers and sister, Richard, Archie, Judy and Jim also had to deal with the family secret in that their father was what was what was called Paper Son. The term refers to Chinese people who were born in China and illegally immigrated to the United States by purchasing fraudulent documentation claiming U.S. citizenship.

Many Paper Sons, who came to the United States to avoid war or poverty, were afraid of being deported back to China. It wasn’t until the 1960s that new legislation broadened immigration from Asia and gave Paper Sons a chance to tell the truth. Many chose to stick with their adopted names for fear of retribution.

“Our name was Lau until I was in sixth grade, because my father was a Paper Son,” said Richard. “But we changed our name back and it opened up new experiences for us. But I remember a lot of my classmates came from so-called Pioneer Families here in the valley.

“I was always a little bit envious of that, because I remember the stories my parents told about my great-grandfather. But in school, there was nothing to support that the Chinese were even here in the Kittitas Valley. My ancestors were here the same time as these other pioneers, but there’s nothing about that history.”

INFORMATION LACKING

Huie-Pascua’s research discovered not only are her great and grandparent’s history not available, even information on her father, who was a businessman and entrepreneur in the 20th century, is lacking.

“The question was posed to me today, ‘How does it feel not to have evidence of your family history, your story?’” she said. “I Googled my dad’s name and there was only information dating back seven years ago. His obituary, mom and dad’s 50th wedding anniversary.

“But that was it. I tried more than one search engine, and there was nothing. I am thinking my gosh, what happened to our family history dating back to the turn of the century? We are not remembered for our family’s accomplishments and I have to say I am saddened by that.”

Comments

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.