Rolling History Revisited, with Dragons

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Last September a gaily-decorated rolling history bus traversed the nooks and crannies of Tucson’s southern and western barrios, uncovering stories of Chinese groceries and their prominent role in Tucson’s history during the early 20th century. The bus inspired new stories among neighbors, merchants and the Chinese community, according to Robin Blackwood, chair of the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center’s History Committee. And those new stories are being told in new collaborations and special events scheduled for next month.

Rolling History bus this year is called The Dragon Salutes Juneteenth (subtitled: Great Cultures; a Day of Celebration). To be held June 15, the event begins with the Dragonboat Festival at the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center, traverses through the Juneteenth Festival at the Donna Liggins Neighborhood Center and Dunbar Spring neighborhood, with additional stops at Mission Gardens and Vista del Pueblo Park before returning to the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center.

“In each phase of our Beyond Groceries project we go to a different set of historic neighborhoods in which the Chinese had grocery stores and seek out neighbors who remember them,” notes Robin. In this Phase II, Rolling History will journey through the Dunbar Spring neighborhood, where at least three historic Chinese groceries are known: Jim’s Market; Lim Nuey, later called Lim Poy, and Dolly’s Market.

“We’re celebrating the diversity, civility, and tolerance of these neighborhoods and their cultures, while adding to neighborhood pride and giving publicity to hidden aspects of Tucson. Celebration will foster collaboration and promote additional joint projects,” Robin notes.

Chinese Cultural Center Lion Dancers
Chinese Cultural Center Lion Dancers

This Rolling History phase coincides with two special holidays in June: The Dragonboat Festival and the Juneteenth celebration. The Dragonboat Festival, an ancient Chinese observance also called Double Fifth, occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, and is observed in many countries throughout Asia. Juneteenth recognizes the announcement in Texas of the Emancipation Proclamation. Its celebration has grown in African American communities throughout the United States, and includes history, food, and entertainment.

Specifics regarding the Dragonboat Festival component of the June 15 event:
The Dragonboat Festival, a classic summer celebration, is marked by dragonboat races and the making and eating of zongzi (sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves and stuffed with various foodstuffs). The Tucson Dragonboat Festival event starts at 11:30 and runs until 3 PM at the Chinese Cultural Center. The Center’s Festival involves a children’s event, where boat-building kits may be purchased from the Center and prizes awarded at the Festival for fastest boat, best design, and more.

Specifics regarding the Juneteenth and Rolling History components of the June 15 event:
• Chinese Center Lion Dancers will perform at each stop.
• Day celebration at Chinese Cultural Center of Dragonboat Festival, with departure at 4:30 PM to participate in Juneteenth celebration at Donna Liggins Center (Mansfield Park);
• Bus moves to Dunbar Spring neighborhood and stops at Dunbar Project, where Green Gourmet Anthony Johnson will serve African-American food and provide insights into early African American agriculture in Tucson, and the Barbea WIlliams Performance Group will give a demonstration of African dance;
• Crossing the Santa Cruz River, Rolling History bus continues with a tour of Mission Gardens, where staff will focus on archaeological evidences of early Chinese farming at the site;
• Before a return to the Chinese Cultural Center, the bus makes a last stop in A Mountain neighborhood, another historically African American neighborhood, where the original Tucson Juneteenth celebration was held and where there were also Chinese groceries.

Beyond Groceries is a place-making project funded by a Tucson Pima Arts Council PLACE grant. In researching the project, the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center has established a collaborative relationship with the Dunbar Project and engaged in research with African American historians and neighbors. Dunbar Project will receive a copy of all of the videos and materials produced by the Chinese Cultural Center, for neighborhood education efforts.

“Through these friends we learned of the original site in Tucson of the Juneteenth celebration, the Vista del Pueblo Park in A Mountain neighborhood,” Robin says.

“We have other oral histories which will be played during the June 15 event and used for education/community service thereafter,” notes Robin.

The celebration is free to the neighborhoods. Neighbors are encouraged to come out and join the party at each stop. Tickets for the June 15 Rolling History party (which includes a seat on the bus) are $15, and there is limited seating available. For additional information about all June 15 events and Rolling History bus reservations, contact the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center: 520-292-6900.

BorderLore, July 2012, Rolling History Project

As part of the Rolling History project, the Chinese Cultural Center conducts oral histories. All histories are multi-generation, with stories of the elders told to the youth. The Chinese Cultural Center is conducting a Skype oral history interview with Ernie McCray, who grew up in Dunbar neighborhood and has very rich memories of the family that ran Lim Nuey Market.

Robin’s storytelling: Ernie tells the story about the original Jim’s Market (on the site of Lim Nuey), where a Chinese woman named Bendie at that location pierced the ears of the African American neighborhood girls. Robin also reports that from the Chinese Cultural membership and historic documents, there are records and stories about Chinese grocery stores in Dunbar Spring, South Park, and A Mountain neighborhoods. One story: Mr. Morgan Maxwell, Jr., prominent African American citizen of Tucson and son of the long-time principal of Dunbar School (segregated school for African American children) tells the story of his mother, the first African American teacher in the Marana schools. In 1951 there were concerns no one would come to her class because of her race. Mrs. Mamie Kai, wife of major Chinese land owner (and cotton farmer) John Kai, brought her son John Jr. by the hand to Mrs. Maxwell’s classroom the first day of school. Because of the Kais’ status in the Marana community, everyone else followed.

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