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'History teaches us lessons'

Chinese New Year celebration returns with renewed spirit, a year after cancellation

After being canceled in 2005, Jacksonville's Chinese New Year celebration is back ' and bigger than ever, organizers say.

We are grateful the city and the chamber understand the importance and the history of the Chinese people in this valley, says organizer Jeresa Hren, a Jacksonville resident and Taiwan native.

Hren became the cultural celebration's organizer at its founding after she was approached by Jacksonville restaurateur Jeff Levin, she says.

He looked at me and said, 'You must be Chinese. I have a great idea,' Hren says, laughing.

After five years of successfully orchestrating the daylong celebrations, Hren was disappointed the Chamber of Commerce opted to cancel 2005's event, citing dwindling volunteers and apparent lack of interest in the Chinese culture.

— To tell you the truth, I was upset, says Hren.

Chamber President Terry Gieg told Hren the chamber wanted the celebration back in 2006, she says. Gieg would even organize the parade herself.

We felt this was important, says Gieg. (The Chinese) were here. They were an integral part of our history.

In spring 2004, archaeologists for the Oregon Department of Transportation discovered what they believe is one of the oldest Chinatowns in the state's history while rebuilding a one-mile stretch of Highway 238 in the center of Jacksonville. Much of this town was built by the Chinese, says Hren.

Checks from the chamber and the City Council in the amounts of &

36;1,000 and &

36;5,000 provided much needed encouragement and seed money for this year's celebration, Hren says.

Hren soon began getting calls from other Jackson County residents of Chinese descent or affiliation, and the Chinese Chapter of the Southern Oregon Asian Cultural Association was formed, Hren says.

With the help of the new members, the one-day event quickly became a three-day Chinese New Year celebration with a variety of cultural events now spanning three cities, Hren says.

A reception Friday, Feb. — at Southern Oregon University's Schneider Museum of Art will feature the art of Hren's friend Yeh Fei Pai and showcase the current exhibit, The Vanishing.

Historical records show many Chinese workers labored in mines in Jacksonville and hefted sledgehammers to build railroads in Ashland. Others became successful businessmen.

But discrimination and harassment of the Chinese during the 1890s caused most to flee Southern Oregon.

History teaches us lessons, says Hren. How come there are no Chinese in the valley now? They were all chased off.

Events Saturday, Feb 4. in Jacksonville will feature more than the traditional parade with lion dancers and Chinese drummers, says Hren.

Brush painting, Chinese calligraphy, martial arts and origami demonstrations are planned. At the U.S. Hotel, two shows will feature a multi-dynasty fashion display.

Five thousand years of history is on display with costumes provided by the Chinese Cultural Center in Seattle.

Chinese New Year provides an opportunity for residents to explore and better understand the Chinese culture, she says. Something most of the town's residents didn't do in the mid- to late-1800s, Hren says.

They didn't take the time to understand, says Hren. But Peter Britt was great. He worked with the many successful Chinese business people.

On Sunday, Feb. 5, Chinese New Year moves to Medford. Virginia LeRoux Silbowitz, the cultural association's education director, will present Chinese arts and crafts and food to youth and their parents at Kids Unlimited.

A teacher with the Medford school district working mainly with Hispanic students, LeRoux Silbowitz says her parents were both born in China.

My parents spoke only Chinese at home, says LeRoux Silbowitz. My mother never learned English.

Chinese New Year is one way to give locals of all ages a small dose of exposure to what was once the valley's largest minority population, Hren says.

Living in a multicultural society takes time, says Hren. It is a long educational process.

2006: The Year of the Dog

Ashland:

5 p.m. Feb. 3, Schneider Museum of Art, Southern Oregon University campus.

A reception will be held for The Vanishing, an exploration of the history of the Chinese in Southern Oregon during the 1890s.

The exhibit also will feature a painting and calligraphy demonstration by Taiwan artist Yeh Fei Pai, as well as a procession of traditional Qing Dynasty attire.

Jacksonville :

11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 4, downtown.

The Chinese New Year Parade will feature traditional lion dancers and a host of musicians and performers. Brush painting, Chinese calligraphy, martial arts and origami paper folding will be demonstrated by various artists throughout town. There also will be activities for children.

At the U.S. Hotel, two afternoon shows will feature Chinese dances, folk songs and historical dress presentations. Advance sale of tickets for the two shows are available at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

Medford:

— p.m. Feb. 5, Kids Unlimited, 821 N. Riverside Drive.

Chinese crafts, games, music, dances and activities will be part of a program to benefit Kids Unlimited.

?History teaches us lessons?"sspecht@mailtribune.com.

?The Chi,? by Yeh Fei Pai. The artist will give a painting and calligraphy demonstration in Ashland during a three-day Chinese New Year celebration.