“Flashback: Oral Histories of D.C. Chinatown” is a joint project between filmmaker Penny Lee and 1882 Foundation, with support from HumanitiesDC, to share unpublished oral histories of residents of D.C.’s Chinatown. Through a series of ten short films, the project showcases the voices of twelve Chinatown residents to tell stories about family, immigration, growing up in D.C., and what the community is like today.
Since the establishment of the first Chinatown in Washington, D.C., in the 1880s, Chinese Americans have been a key part of the fabric of D.C. and made significant contributions to the cultural, economic, and political landscape of the city. However, the stories of their arrival, struggle, and achievements are not widely known, and it is critical, in light of ever-shifting demographic trends as well as ongoing conversations about race and racial violence, to preserve and share these stories and memories.
The core of the project is a series of ten short films. These films focus on the lives and experiences of Chinatown residents, from those who were first-generation immigrants to the U.S. to those born and raised in Chinatown. These interviews illuminate not only a slice of everyday life in the District from the 1950s onward, but also the personal impact of social, economic, and political upheavals, including racial discrimination, gentrification of the neighborhood, and the 1968 riots. This collection makes a significant contribution to the study of D.C. history by offering a portrayal of the city as lived through the Chinese American experience, unique in its culture, practices, community-building, and navigation of intersectional relationships.