I’m Jim Lewis, half of the team of parade marshals for the Chinese New Year’s, this year. I’m on the city council and have been for 32 years. 14 of those years, I was the mayor and I was sitting mayor when the first Chinese New Year’s was held.
The Chinese first came here in the early 1850s because of the gold discovery here. They were key in working in the gold strikes. They were also important in the development of railroads throughout the West. And to my knowledge, we had, if not the first, among the first Chinese settlements in the Pacific Northwest. And at one time, it was certainly the largest as well.
We got very serious about pursuing the Chinese contributions here with the diggings that were undertaken near our city hall in conjunction with the ODOT improvement projects about 15 to 20 years ago, I guess it was. And we’ve been doing the parade, I think, for at least that long. We look forward to the annual event because it brings people from all over the valley and, in fact, from up and down the Pacific Coast. We’ve had participants from Seattle, from the Bay area. They’ve been generous in providing manpower in the early stages, dragons and lions for the dances. And we’ve been fortunate enough to have good weather for most of our celebrations.
It’s a very good day for families to come out. It’s educational. It’s festive. The kids really seem to enjoy it. A lot of events are focused on children, crafts. There are food, education events. It’s just all around fun. And for two decades, we’ve been helped by SOCCA, Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association, who have been key in promoting, growing, encouraging, spreading word about the event. Without their energetic leadership, I don’t know what we really would be doing. We have a lot of other volunteers, citizens here in town as well, who help with crowd control, traffic flow, set up and break down. It’s a big volunteer event, probably entails two to 300 volunteers annually. It’s been a very wonderful experience for the 20 some odd years that Gayle and I have been involved in it. We haven’t missed one yet. Hope not to ever miss one.
Thank you for joining us here today for the Chinese New Year celebration and for the honor of being with you. I’m Gayle. I’m the other half of the Grand Marshal team. I’m so fortunate to have grown up right here in Jacksonville and to have witnessed the rediscovery of the heritage of our Chinese people and the contributions they made to our community.
Some of you may have seen me around town in costume, either at the Beekman House on a historic tour or giving a haunted history tour. I also try to be wherever the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology is investigating a site here in town. Volunteering with SOCCA since the very first event has been so much fun. Helping the children learn about Chinese heritage by participating in a craft event is really a bright spot in a winter day. The day brings out the child in all of us. The event really couldn’t happen without you, our exuberant participants and the many volunteers who share our excitement.
We are looking forward to the Year of the Ox after the rough 2020 with a new year and new hope. In Chinese culture, the ox is a valued and respected animal for its role in agriculture and for its all around usefulness. The Chinese, here in Oregon, surely used oxen to help build railroads and mines and to carry supplies to their camps. The ox is strong, hardworking, and reliable, and is the perfect animal symbol for giving us health, safety and prosperity in 2021. We invite you to enjoy the many programs the Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association is presenting today and have a very happy new year.