USC Special Collections has established a new initiative to compile the experiences of the Taiwanese-American community in the form of the Taiwanese-American Digital Archive, which aims to spotlight the Taiwanese-American community’s often-overlooked history.
The project was launched by Joanna Chen Cham, L.A. as Subject Resident Archivist with USC Libraries, with guidance from USC East Asian Library head Kenneth Klein. The initiative was formally announced on Feb. 9 at the Taiwanese-American Digital Archive Forum and Exhibit in Doheny Memorial Library. Cham and Klein are currently in the process of working with the community to collect materials that they plan to later digitize and make widely available.
Cham was inspired to create the initiative because of her background as a second-generation Taiwanese-American born in L.A. and the lack of Asian-American representation among archivists.
“I’ve always had an interest in seeing more diversity represented in both the profession, but also in the collections and the history that we collect,” Cham said. “And specifically, I think growing up in the Taiwanese community in the San Gabriel Valley … there wasn’t very much of that history being captured.”
Cham also emphasized the need for the archive to be established now, before the Taiwanese-American community’s rich history is lost.
“I think the timing is critical now because the first generations of Taiwanese-Americans started trickling in in the late ’60s, and then into the ’60s and the ’70s,” Cham said. “A lot of those people are starting to move away, maybe downsizing, [and] some people have passed away, so I think it’s very critical and the perfect timing now, to be able to capture that history before it’s gone.”
Despite the fact that many archives have collected materials about Chinese-Americans, cataloging the experiences of immigrants throughout major historical events like the Gold Rush and the Chinese Exclusion Act, as well as more recent immigration, Klein said that the same amount of attention has not been paid to Taiwanese-Americans.
“Overlooked, for the most part, has been the Taiwanese-American community, perhaps because it’s somewhat smaller,” Klein said.
Klein went on to highlight the benefits of USC becoming one of the first universities to focus on actively collecting Taiwanese-American history.
“By identifying with a niche that hasn’t been filled, so far as we can tell — we haven’t found any other institution that really collects materials focused on Taiwanese-Americans,” Klein said. “By doing that, we can establish presence that we didn’t have before and can give us a collection advantage, something that makes our collection distinct.”
Cham sees USC as a logical choice to host the archive, given the commitment of USC Libraries Special Collections and Archives to documenting L.A.’s diverse history, as well as USC’s deep connections to the community.
“Los Angeles is one of the largest Taiwanese-American communities in the U.S. I think it makes sense for Taiwanese-American history to be archived and preserved and accessible at a place that’s close to them,” Cham said, saying that USC in particular “has many community ties because it has a very diverse demographic of students.”
Currently, Cham and Klein are working to digitize newspaper runs so that issues discussed can be made more well-known and easily available for research. One of the newspapers they are planning to archive is the Pacific Times, an L.A.-based Taiwanese newspaper.
“It will be great if we can have some key documents preserved in a university such as USC, so that when people want to do research on Taiwanese-Americans, they will have a very easy time finding all the collections,” said Lin Wenching, editor-in-chief of the Pacific Times. “It’s a good project for us to do, to work with the East Asian Library, so that we can preserve such a rich history of Taiwanese-Americans. So definitely, it’s a very important project for us.”