In 2022, the Evanston History Center began a partnership with the Kitchen Table Stories Project to establish a local Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander (ASPA) archive. One goal of the project it to shine a brighter light on ASPA history in Evanston. The project, called “Placemaking,” is an ongoing endeavor.
About the project: Despite the longtime presence of ASPA individuals and families in Evanston, the city’s ASPA history has not been granted the attention or focus of our local histories and archives. Today, over 10% of Evanston’s population identifies as Asian, South Asian and/or Pacific Islander, but the ASPA community has not been represented in the mainstream historical record as widely as it deserves. This absence can reinforce the perpetual “foreigner” myth which has often and historically been associated with ASPA identities, and it also acts as a means by which a community’s history – its stories, contributions, biographies – are muted or even erased.
In an effort to document, share, and preserve Evanston’s ASPA history, the Evanston History Center and the Kitchen Table Stories Project are engaging in an ongoing project to research that history, to gather stories from the local ASPA community, and to preserve and share this history today and into the future. From artifacts, biographies, and stories to accounts of immigration and refugee journeys and personal testimonies, this collected history will be housed in the Evanston History Center and shared as part of the Kitchen Table Stories Project.
The goal of this project is not only to ensure that ASPA history in Evanston is uncovered, preserved, and shared, but also to create a living archive, with resources for families, students, and educators. This is particularly important in the wake of the 2021 passage of the TEAACH Act (Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History) in Illinois. The law requires that Asian American history be taught in public schools starting in the 2022-2023 school year. Illinois is the first state in the nation to hold such a requirement.
Tell Us Your Stories!
Please use this submission form to add to the archives by telling us your stories. You can also email Jenny Thompson, PhD, Director of Education at the Evanston History Center to share your stories: email@example.com.
The form can be found at: https://forms.gle/Egnye8HFajVGYnnd8
About the participants: Founded by artist and educator Melissa Raman Molitor, the Kitchen Table Stories Project is a multimedia healing justice project centering the voices and narratives of the local Asian, South Asian and Pacific Islander diaspora. The Evanston History Center is a non-profit museum and education center which features an extensive local history archive.
“100 Years of Overlooked History: Uncovering Asian American Stories in Evanston and the Midwest,” by Hannah
Born November 11, 1897 in Bangkok, Siam (now Thailand), Boon Lieng came to Evanston c. 1917 to attend Northwestern University. He lived for a while in Haven Dormitory and then moved into Lindgren House at 2309 Sheridan Rd. An honor roll student, Lieng was treasurer of the Cosmopolitan Club, a campus group for foreign students. He was also a member of the Order of the Barb – a group for students who were not members of fraternities. He also took part in campus tennis tournaments. Lieng graduated with a B.S. degree in 1921. Lieng was one of the earliest students from Siam to come to the U.S. to pursue undergraduate education. Beginning in the late 1890s, the Siamese government chose a handful of the country’s “best and brightest” to study abroad, all expenses paid by King Vajiravudh (known as “King’s Scholarships.”) After earning their degrees, they returned to Siam. In 1917, a grand total of 15 students from Siam came to the U.S. to study. While living in Evanston, Boon Lieng registered for selective service (“the draft”). At the time, all men between 21-31 yrs old were required to register, whether or not they were U.S. citizens.
At this point, we haven’t uncovered the rest of Boon Lieng’s story. But we will update this page as new information is uncovered. It’s part of our ongoing effort to research ASPA history in Evanston.
The son of immigrants from China, Harry W. Lum (1889-1941) was born in San Francisco. When he was about 20 years old, he ventured east to Chicago. During WWI, Lum served overseas in the American Expeditionary Force in WWI. He sailed for France as a private in the 88th Division in August 1918 and returned home in 1919. In about 1925, he moved to Evanston and was hired as manager of the newly-opened (1924) Phoenix Inn restaurant at 611 Davis Street. Lum would serve in that role until his death in 1941. Over the years, many of the restaurant’s staff and co-owners were members of the Lum family. In the restaurant’s first years, many of its staff were new immigrants from China. In 1967, Kee Lum announced that the Phoenix Inn would be moving across the street to 608 Davis Street. When the restaurant closed in 2016, it was believed to be Evanston’s oldest (continually operating) restaurant.
Dr. Yamei Kin (1864-1934) In May 1903, Dr. Yamei Kin (also known as Jin Yunmei) came to Evanston to speak at the Guild rooms of Northwestern University’s Lunt library. Her address was titled: “Ojosan and her Accomplishments.” Her remarks were “illustrated by means of an exhibition of native Chinese ornaments.” (“At the Corner of Dempster,” The Evanston Index, May 2, 1903.)