About Mindy

Northwest Room Historian at Everett Public Library

The Early 20th Century Japan Bazaar on Hewitt Avenue

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. This is an opportunity to pay tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history—at the national, state, and local level. Asian Americans have a complex and difficult history in the Northwest since the mid-19th century, when waves of immigrants began arriving from China, Japan, and the Philippines.

Today, we are sharing one striking image from our Northwest History collection: a portrait of the Chinese Kan family inside their Hewitt Avenue business, the Japan Bazaar. This compelling image from the summer of 1907 offers a glimpse inside their lives and hints at the complexities and conflicts this community may have faced in early 20th century Everett.

Although we do not have a full history of the Kan family or their business, we are able to stitch together pieces of their story based on the image and other Everett Public Library resources such as: oral histories, Polk’s City Directories, Everett Herald archives, and genealogical and archival databases.

As the Northwest region’s Asian population grew, so too did anti-immigration hostilities and policies. Chinese immigrants in California and Washington faced discriminatory taxes, prohibitions against marrying white people, and owning land. In 1882, Congress passed a national Chinese Exclusion Act to restrict Chinese immigration entirely. Chinese populations were expelled from Seattle and Tacoma in 1885 and 1886.

It was amidst this culture of anti-Chinese fears and policies that Charles Kan and his wife, Beam Owyong Kan, arrived in the Pacific Northwest.

JapanBazaarEDHDec31901

Everett Daily Herald, December 3, 1901

We know that the Charles and Beam Kan family arrived in Everett from China by way of Portland, Tacoma, and Seattle, but it is unclear when and why they first immigrated to the United States. Like many Chinese immigrants, they may have felt a combination of push and pull factors that caused them to seek a better life in the United States.

The earliest record of Charles Kan is from 1892, when he was identified as a merchant from Japan in the Washington state census. This description matched his listing in the 1892 Seattle city directory as a purveyor of Japanese goods. The Kans operated Everett’s “Japan Bazaar” on Hewitt Avenue, from 1901 to 1910.

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Seattle City Directory, 1892

Birth records indicate that the oldest Kan children, Samuel and Ruth, were born in Portland, Oregon, in 1897 and 1899. The youngest two children, Mary and John, were born in Everett, in 1904 and 1907. Unlike the 1892 census records, all other readily available public records indicate Chinese—not Japanese—ancestry.

The family moved back and forth between Oregon and Washington cities for many years before arriving in Everett. In some years, Charles Kan operated his own business. In others, he clerked for Andrew Kan, an importer primarily based in Seattle. While Charles Kan seems to have consistently marketed his business as Japanese, Andrew Kan’s businesses varied between Chinese, Japanese, and simply “Oriental.” This fluid ethnic identity may have been a simple marketing tactic designed to sell more goods. Or, perhaps, it was a response to heightened tensions facing Chinese immigrants.

EDHNov211901

Everett Daily Herald, November 21, 1901

When the Kans arrived in Everett in 1901, the city was less than a decade old. Brimming with economic and industrial opportunities, it attracted an influx of immigrants and job-seekers during the first decade of the 20th century. On November 21, 1901, the Everett Daily Herald announced the opening of Charles Kan’s Japanese Bazaar on Hewitt Avenue. On the next page, the Herald ran a story entitled, “Says Keep the Heathen Out.” The article described President Roosevelt’s attitude toward the policy of Chinese exclusion: “The heathen has been slipping in…either by stealth or bribery of immigration officials…”

In this environment of prosperity, opportunity, and overt hostility, it is unsurprising that the Chinese family wanted to pass as Japanese, a more culturally and politically acceptable ethnicity at the time.

In December of 1907, a few months after our photo was taken, the Everett Daily Herald featured the store in an article on Christmas shopping. They author described the busy manager, Mr. Kan, peddling a colorful range of affordable, quality products for all ages, such as “humming tops and other amusing toys for children, delicate drawn work, embroider, brasses, ivories, paintings on silk, cigar cases, match safes and countless other artistic oddities…” The writer was enthusiastic about the store’s exotic Japanese atmosphere. He described a “fairyland to be sure in these purely Oriental windows” before enthusing: “one may almost see the cherry blossoms fall from imaginary trees and hear the soft tones of busy Japanese in far off Mikadoland…” The Herald writer seemed perfectly convinced of the Japan Bazaar’s authenticity.

In a 1975 oral history interview, Rita Yeo Richmond, an early Everett pioneer and the daughter of a local business owner, reminisced about visiting the Japan Bazaar as a child. According to Rita, the other business owners in town all knew—and accepted—that the Kan family was Chinese, not Japanese. She recalls:

“And then there was a Chinese store. Did anybody speak of that? That was nice. He stayed open until nine o’clock in the night, and my dad used to take us down there. And oh, he had so many Chinese things. Big store. He had a little girl named Ruth and a boy named Sam. My dad used to go down there real often, and was real friendly with them, you know. In Everett they wouldn’t allow a Chinese in at that time. But he kind of posed as something—as a Jap or something. But anyhow, my dad got talking to other merchants in town, and they all thought he was so wonderful that they should let him stay, you know. So they let him stay. They kept it hush.”

Sometime between 1910 and 1912, after a decade in Everett, the family moved back to Seattle, and then, eventually to Los Angeles, California. Although the Kan family’s story remains largely unknown, they nevertheless filled a unique role and left a mark on the business community of early Everett.

Recommended reading on early 20th Century Chinese and Japanese American experiences in the Northwest:

Reflections of Seattle’s Chinese Americans: the First 100 Years

Dreams of the West: a history of the Chinese in Oregon, 1850-1950

Subverting Exclusion: Transpacific Encounters with Race, Caste, and Borders, 1885-1928

May is Jewish American Heritage Month

In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, the Northwest Room—the library’s local history collection—is highlighting two notable Jewish families in Everett’s history and their stories.

The first Jewish settlers arrived in Everett in the early 20th century. The Michelson family was among the first to arrive. Abe Michelson first emigrated from Latvia to Tacoma. In 1906, Abe and his wife, Etta, relocated to Everett. Abe and his brother, Sam, opened a second-hand store on Hewitt Avenue, the Riverside Junk Company.

The Michelson family was active in building Congregation Moses Montefiore, in a house-turned-synagogue on Lombard Street. There were about 60 Jewish families in Everett in the 1920s and 1930s, who participated in Orthodox services and organized religious classes for children. Attendance declined with the construction of Highway 99, which made it easier for Everett’s Jewish community to attend other synagogues in Seattle.

Michelson

(Moe Michelson portrait, Northwest Room Collection, Everett Public Library)

 

Abe and Etta’s eldest son, Moe Michelson (1908-1996) is remembered as an active member of Everett City Council. He served in position #2 from 1968 to 1989. Find more pictures of Councilman Michelson in the Northwest Room Digital Collections.

The Glassberg family was also familiar in Everett and its Jewish community. The Glassbergs—Maurice, Susie, and children Abe and Ruth—moved to Everett from Salt Lake City, Utah, in the early 20th century. They operated a pawnshop at 2905 Hewitt Avenue.

While a student at Everett High School, Abe Glassberg (1898-1994) began writing for the Everett Daily Herald. He became the newspaper’s managing editor in 1937, and held the position until retirement in 1963. In 1975, Glassberg was recorded for a brief interview, which is part of the Northwest Room’s Oral History Collection.

 Recommended reads:

Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State, by Molly Cone, HoFoSward Droker, and Jacqueline Williams (2003)

Jews of the Pacific Coast: Reinventing Community on America’s Edge
by Ellen JofPCEisenberg, Ava F. Kahn, and William Toll (2009)

The Northwest Room has many resources to help you research and explore your history at your library.

City of Refuge

City of Refuge is a passionate love letter to New Orleans. This story about how Hurricane Katrina affected two families—one white and middle class, one poor and black—is by turns heart- and gut-wrenching.

On a sweltering hot, late August day in New Orleans we meet SJ Williams, a widowed carpenter and Vietnam vet, who lives and works in the Lower Ninth Ward. Williams must care for his ailing sister Lucy and her troubled son Wesley. We also meet Craig Donaldson, a native of Michigan, who lives in a comfortable middle class neighborhood near Tulane with a wife and two children. These two families make radically different plans for getting through the coming storm. Williams opts to board his windows and tough it out at home. Donaldson and his family evacuate north across Lake Pontchartrain to Mississippi.

After the levees break and the flood waters rush in, SJ and his family are scattered to the Convention Center, the Superdome, and eventually across state lines. Do you remember being glued to the television that summer, observing with horror the plight suffered by thousands of New Orleanians? The Williams are those people. City of Refuge paints a much more intimate portrait of them than we saw on television.

Meanwhile, the Donaldson family manages to evacuate first to Mississippi, then to Chicago. Safe and sound thousands of miles from home, Craig and his wife must confront their rocky marriage and make the difficult decision of whether or not to return to their adopted hometown. Whereas the Williamses feel like composite characters based on thousands of victims and evacuees, Craig reads like an autobiographical character and it is clear that the author really relates to him.

Large chunks of City of Refuge read like narrative non-fiction: descriptions of the city, the levees, the damage, and media attention during the storm and its immediate aftermath, and diatribes about an ineffective and disorganized government response. Nevertheless, Piazza weaves his concerns about race and class through the contrasting experiences of the Williamses and the Donaldsons with great compassion and a compelling intensity.

If you enjoy other accounts of Katrina, such as Dave Eggers’s  Zeitoun or Treme give City of Refuge a try.

Mindy

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

When my sister saw that I was reading Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self she worried about me. Relax! I’m not a danger to myself or others. This slim volume is realistic fiction, not self-help.

This is a collection of eight short stories about young African-American women—and some men—navigating the difficult terrain of race, class, sexuality and coming-of-age. As the title implies, the characters face challenging situations in which they are their own worst enemies. Evans has a sharp wit and fresh voice that give an original spin to some age-old themes.

“Snakes” is my favorite of the bunch. A biracial woman reflects back on the fateful summer she spent with her rich, white, racist grandmother and beloved white cousin. “Snakes” makes you consider what a lasting impact a child’s split-second decision can have. It may be worth reading twice.

“Harvest” is also haunting. One beautiful, intelligent, healthy white Columbia University student sells her eggs to pay for her wardrobe and lifestyle. Her college roommates—equally beautiful, intelligent and healthy—cannot do the same. They are black and, simply put, there is no market for their eggs.  The story of the ethics and economics of egg donation is complicated by an unwanted pregnancy. Evans deals gracefully with the stark contrast of one young woman being paid for her eggs while her friend considers paying for an abortion. The story’s ending is surprising and poignant.

Fans of women’s coming-of-age story collections like Nell Freudenberger’s Lucky Girls or Julie Orringer’s How to Breathe Underwater will find much to savor in this collection. Although each of Evans’ stories feature different characters, plotlines and dilemmas, the stories occasionally blur together thematically. What Evans’ collection lacks in breadth it more than makes up for in depth. Help yourself out and give Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self a try.

Mindy

Bored at Work

If you sit in a cramped cubicle under bad fluorescent lights, push around Sisyphean stacks of papers and bide your time until retirement—only 9 years, 7 months, 2 weeks, 3 days, 3 hours and 12 minutes to go, but hey, who’s counting—it’s inevitable that you suffer from the occasional bout of modern office malaise. You are not alone. Boredom can and will strike even the most dedicated, toilsome office worker anytime, anywhere.

While there is no known cure for workplace-induced ennui, you may find some relief in these novels that take the languor and absurdity of office culture to a whole other level.

Something Happened by Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller’s second novel is a scathing satire on business life and American culture. It’s as inventive, but not nearly as well-known, as Catch-22. Something Happened takes readers inside the head of Bob Slocum, a man who has it all: a steady job, a beautiful wife, three children, a nice house, plenty of mistresses, and plenty more discontent…until something happens. Eavesdrop on Bob as he records the goings on in his life at home and at the office.

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

Dan Underwood, a computer programmer at Microsoft, narrates this novel that follows six computer whizzes. These “microserfs” work at least 16 hours a day as cogs in the machine until they decide to strike out on their own to form a high-tech start up in Silicon Valley. This will touch a nerve with any worker who remembers fondly (or not so fondly) slaving away during the 1990s tech boom.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

The employees of a Chicago advertising firm struggle to cope with a business downturn and multiple rounds of layoffs. Their solution? A rumor mill, covert romances, pranks, too many coffee breaks, and a fierce competition to score the best office furniture. If you’ve ever spent time hoarding Post-It notes in a cubicle, you’re sure to recognize someone you know among this large ensemble cast of quirky office workers.

Now stop reading this and get back to work. Or better yet, leave a comment and tell me about your favorite book set in an office. And then get back to work.

Mindy

Vintage Chick Lit

Did you know that chick lit predates the Shopaholic, the diary-writing nannies or the Prada-wearing Devil? This is a literary genre so old it can trace its roots all the way back to Jane Austen. Chick lit comes in many forms, but it almost always involves some combination of smart-but-struggling single girls, dating disasters, career catastrophes, a glamorous big city and cute shoes.

My passion for 1950s and 1960s chick lit doesn’t hold a candle to Carrie Bradshaw’s obsession with Manolo Blahnik pumps. But still, I love this fluffy stuff from an earlier era.

Here are a few that are still very readable and enjoyable to this day:

The Group by Mary McCarthy follows eight graduates of Vassar College’s Class of 1933 for several years after graduation. These gals struggle to be modern and liberated, unlike their mothers. McCarthy tackles plenty of hot button issues head-on, like birth control, lesbianism, breastfeeding and Communism.

The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe centers on five working girls at a New York City publishing house in the early 1950s as they try to balance love and work. Surprisingly steamy and frank in parts, this book reads a bit like a novelization of Mad Men but with an emphasis on the office girls instead.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann chronicles the lives of three young women who move to New York to make it big in showbiz. Filled with plenty of sex, drugs and self-destruction, this is still a page-turner.

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy is about the adventures (and misadventures) of an American girl living large in Paris in the 1950s. It’s romantic, funny, charming and British (not unlike our dear friend Bridget Jones).

For another take on the chick lit genre, read Kara’s post on “literary chick lit.”

Mindy

State by State

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America  is an anthology of 50 essays on 50 states by 50 writers, plus an interview with Washington D.C.’s Edward P. Jones. It’s a great choice for armchair travelers who want to meander casually from place to place.

One caveat: it’s inevitable that a book with so many contributors is bound to be a bit uneven. But discovering those essays that really speak to you makes State by State all the more satisfying.

For me, the essays that work best are those written by people who love, live, or have lived in the state they’re writing about. I found it much more satisfying to read about Joshua Ferris’s childhood vacations to Florida, say, than David Rakoff’s poorly researched weekend excursion to Utah. That style of travel journalism just can’t compare with the warm, proud, complex and conflicted reflections by the writers writing about home. But that’s just me. You’re sure to discover essays you love or hate too.

If you decide to read the entire book, I recommend not reading it cover to cover. The alphabetical journey from Alabama to Wyoming isn’t all that magical.

The editors might have thought of a more creative way to organize the essays, perhaps by admission to the Union (Delaware to Hawaii), by toothlessness rate (West Virginia to Hawaii) or roller coasters per capita (New Hampshire to Wyoming). Please note: the statistical tables in the back of the book are completely awesome.

I abandoned the alphabetical approach after getting bored in Arizona. Here’s how I ended up reading it. I highly recommend this more haphazard approach:

First, read about the states where you grew up and where you currently live. I found Carrie Brownstein’s Washington delightful. You may disagree.

Next, check out the authors you know and love, who may or may not be writing about states you know and love. This approach took me to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Rhode Island and Ann Patchett’s Tennessee early in my reading.

Try some authors who you don’t necessarily know or love but whose work you’re curious to sample. This led me to Ha Jin’s Georgia among others.

Still not finished? Try some states where you perhaps traveled briefly for a family vacation, drove through on your way to somewhere else, or have a great aunt whom you have never met. You may discover some real gems. Thanks, Alexander Payne, for making Nebraska seem hip (maybe), and Louise Erdrich, for making North Dakota seem kinda cool.

Mindy