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Council members aim to increase Chinese engagement, involvement in the community

PMG PHOTO: CLARA HOWELL  - Left to right: Eric Shi, Sisi Yang, Abbie Qi, Denny Barnes, Lucy Liu and Carina Liu. In an effort to increase community involvement from the Chinese population in Lake Oswego, local residents formed a Chinese Council.

So far, the council has seven board members who will each focus on different areas like youth programs, education and civic engagement — though details are still in the planning stages.

Eric Shi, chairman of the Chinese Council, was inspired to get more involved with community service after Mae Yih became the first Chinese American elected into the state Legislature in the late 1970s.

Shi met Denny Barnes — who was a United States diplomat in China for more than 20 years — when Barnes moved to the Lake Oswego area about eight months ago with his family.

They collaborated and shared ideas about how to get the Chinese population more involved in education and the city as a whole.

They thought one approach would be to form the Lake Oswego Chinese Council (LOCC).

In summer, Shi helped gather about 450 people for a park picnic in Tigard so the Lake Oswego Chinese population could unite and meet each other face-to-face.

"Chinese in this community are very together, very integrated, very united," Barnes said.

Shi said a lot of the Chinese population connects through WeChat — a Chinese multi-purpose messaging application similar to WhatsApp — and he started to invite people to the community picnic through the app.

He said after seeing everyone together at the park, he decided it was necessary to continue to engage with the community and that's how he and fellow board members finalized the creation of LOCC in October.

One of the first projects the LOCC plans to tackle in the new year is to erect a statue of a Chinese woodworker in George Rogers Park to represent Chinese history in the city.

"The Chinese came here 150 years ago around 1870," Barnes said. "The only reason the Oregon Iron Works company that founded Lake Oswego worked was because they fired it with charcoal made from the vast mature Douglas fir forest that surrounded Lake Oswego and it was Chinese woodcutters that were hired — 300 of them — to cut down all the trees.

"They weren't really regarded as permanent residents then. They were regarded as contract labor but they were the majority of the first settlement in Lake Oswego. They had a Chinatown where the ballfield at George Rogers Park is."

The statue is currently in the design phase.

A parent education subgroup

When Abbie Qi, Barnes' wife, moved to Lake Oswego, the Lake Oswego School Board was in the process of electing members and Chinese parents were debating online about who was the best fit. She decided to organize a meeting in-person to understand why someone would prefer one school board member over the other.

About 12 people came to the meeting and that's when Qi discovered that some of the mothers lived in the same neighborhood.

Now there is a more formal group of about 40 parents who have started gathering monthly to increase their involvement in the schools through volunteering and to talk about education-related issues.

Newsletters were recently sent out to families, notifying the community there were families in need at the middle schools. The schools had a goal of raising $100 for each family and Qi shared the information with local Chinese parents;together they raised slightly more than $1,200 in one day.

COURTESY PHOTO - About 450 people gathered at a park in Tigard in summer for a picnic. This unity sparked the formation of the Chinese Council."We really do want to make something different, we want to be a real part of it (the community), like make an impression and contribute to the community," Lake Oswego resident Sisi Yang said. "We want to be a part of the future. That's why we really want to get more involved in Lake Oswego."

Qi said that the Lake Oswego City Council has been very supportive of the LOCC and its goals. She added that the schools are also trying to promote diversity and equity as well, which has helped.

"We feel like our lives are being enhanced and (are more) meaningful doing good deeds," Lake Oswego resident Carina Liu said.

To increase their involvement in the schools, the parent group has also helped prepare Chinese dishes for teacher breakfast days at the schools and encouraged more Chinese families to volunteer.

"My personal thing is, I hope the school district gets more and more diversified, have different views on how to educate our next generations," Shi said.

Shi added that by trying to increase the Chinese population's involvement in the community, the efforts are not to fill a racial quota. He said it's more about having the ability to voice and share ideas with the rest of the city — and finally take a seat at the table.

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