By Craig Dietrch
In 1988 I was a professor at USM, teaching China and Asia-related history courses.
It was the “best of times” to be part of this field, because China’s post-Mao opening up was just in full swing and everything about US-China relations suddenly seemed rosy. Two years earlier, on a trip with my friend Norm Buttrick, we encountered hundreds of Chinese who seemed ecstatic at the direction their country was taking and clamored to chat about it and snap pictures with plenty of “V” signs and smiles.
So, back in Maine, in 1988 when two gentlemen approached me about being a part of a new friendship organization, I could not say no. Arthur Clark, a retired engineer, and Husen Tu, an IBM employee whose family was from Taiwan, pushed the project forward. A dinner of interested people was convened at the old Hu Shang restaurant. My wife Sherry attended in my place, as I was away. On that on that most auspicious day (8-8-88) CAFAM was born.
At the time my professional life was hectic, so although I did agree to serve on the board of directors, I intended to play only a secondary role.
That’s not how it turned out. It was impossible not to get more involved with so many fine and interesting people. After Arthur served one turn as CAFAM’s president, I agreed to take a turn. Around 1990 I took over the newsletter and soon the membership records as well. Other duties followed.
Only months after our formation, China’s dramatic Beijing Spring student demonstrations erupted, with all of their hope and agony. CAFAM members demonstrated on Monument Square.
Around this time, a young Qingdao University instructor then studying business at USM married his sweetheart at a special CAFAM meeting convened for the occasion. We began to organize New Year celebrations, we met at a coffee shop to recite moon poetry for the mid-Autumn celebration. We welcomed China’s ambassador to Portland. And so forth.
Flash forward more than twenty years and CAFAM is still going strong. I am still hanging on. Most of the co-founders have gone on to other places and pursuits, but or organization has continued to attract new and younger people to carry us forward.