How I joined CAFAM: Gary Libby

By Gary W. Libby

I was born and raised in Portland and have had an interest in Portland’s history since I was a child. I became a Trustee of the Maine Historical Society in the 1990s and tried to interest the Society in expanding its focus to include non-white ethnic groups.

In 2000 I saw a Community Voices column in the Portland Press Herald entitled “Are there any Chinese in Maine?” As I read the article it became clear to me that the title was rhetorical since the author was Fenggang Yang, a Chinese man who was a sociology professor at the University of Southern Maine.

In essence, that article asked if there had been any historical antecedents for the contemporary Chinese community to which Professor Yang belonged. That question caught my interest. I met Professor Yang for lunch to discuss the possibility of working together to try to answer his question. We found that we liked each other on a personal level and agreed to work together.

Over the next year our efforts yielded surprising results. We found that there had been a small, but vibrant, Chinese presence in Maine beginning before the Civil War. We made contact with some members of Chinese families who had been in Maine since before World War II and began conducting oral history interviews with them and collecting their family photographs.

We then arranged to have the Maine Historical Society create what we called the “Maine Chinese Archive” to house these oral history interviews, photographs, and artifacts and to make them available to the general public.

About this time Professor Yang introduced me to the CAFAM Board which expressed interest in and support for our project. Soon thereafter I joined the CAFAM Board of Directors.

Within a year of when we began our research, Professor Yang left the University of Southern Maine to accept a position at Purdue University. By then I had made many friends in the Chinese community and become hooked on this research project.

In 2001, the Maine Historical Society sponsored a day long conference devoted to the history of Maine’s Chinese community which drew interest from the Boston area as well as Maine.

As I learned more about the history of Chinese Americans nationally I found that there was quite a lot of information on the Chinese communities on the west coast, particularly in California. I also learned that there was research done on the Chinese communities in big city Chinatowns. There was some research available on the Chinese of the Mississippi Delta.

But there was almost no research available on the history of Chinese people who lived in the rest of America. I became determined to try to fill some of that gap. As my research progressed, I began to publish articles in Portland Magazine, as well as scholarly journals, detailing my findings.

With CAFAM’s help, I have begun placing historical markers on buildings in Portland which have connections to the Chinese community. With financial assistance from the Maine Humanities Council, CAFAM has made professionally framed and matted copies of photographs in the Maine Chinese Archive and placed them on display in local Chinese restaurants to bring them to the attention of the wider community.

How I joined CAFAM: Craig Dietrich

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.

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The Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine provides forums and outreach that promote cultural interchanges between the US and China.

Some rights reserved. Please share content responsibly. Banner image: Peonies, Yun Shouping (1633–1690), Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons. Produced by The Compass LLC.