BLOG: Thinking big, that’s their motto

By Assunta Ng

WTA President Ken Chen (left) and Vice President Andy Zhou (Photo by Rebecca Ip/SCP)

Big dreams

The Taishanese were the first wave of Chinese immigrants that came to the United States to build railroads in 1840s. Their descendants in Washington are now gathering momentum to form one of the largest organizations in Seattle and have planned an ambitious agenda for its members unparalleled in the history of Seattle’s Chinese community.

Why start a new association?

Ken Chen, the founding president of the Washington State Taishan Association (WTA), said, “Our board was inspired by Kaiping Association, which was formed last year. Kaiping is a much smaller city compared to Taishan, China, and yet they have done well. Washington state has close to 40,000 Taishan, including immigrants and American-born. We decide to move forward.”

In China, Taishan City is twice as large as Kaiping.

The Washington Taishan Association held a dragon dance the day of their founding banquet. (Photo by Rebecca Ip/SCP)

A big bang

On Sept. 19, the WTA held its founding banquet at the Joy Palace Restaurant; more than 500 people attended. So far, the organization has already raised more than $300,000 in less than a year in order to buy a building.

The idea of creating the association, and simultaneously the vision of having a home, was conceived about a year ago.

WTA’s strategy for public relations and fundraising is impressive. Its members realize the importance of reaching out through the power of the media and the list of donors has already created a buzz in the Chinese community.

Weeks before the banquet, the WTA took a series of advertisements in the Seattle Chinese Post announcing its donors. Chen said the newspaper’s ad produced a lot of response; some Taishanese immediately contacted the association and made a donation. So far, the association has more than 500 members.

“Some donors in their 70s said they dreamed of having the Taishan association for decades and were wondering why there was no leadership in the community to get the association going,” said Chen.

Chen also said that most donors are small businesses and small business owners.

Non-Taishanese also made donations. Congratulatory letters and messages from the governor, country executives, and Taishan officials were sought; all were printed in the Seattle Chinese Post as part of the advertising campaign.

Members of the WTA with the International Lion Dance Team and Ying Yung Tong. (Photo by Rebecca Ip/SCP)

Young leadership

The association will also change the landscape of leadership in the Chinese community.

Traditionally, Chinatown organizations’ leaders are long-timers, elderly, and traditional in the old ways, but WTA seems to be reversing the trend. Its founding president is a 40-year-old entrepreneur, while the board is made up of older men.

“This is the new trend in China,” said Andy Chou, the vice president of the association. “They believe in young people. Taishan’s mayor is in his 30s.”

“We will do what we need to do to help the president,” he continued.

Ethnic pride

“I was moved by the support in the community,” said Chen.

Less than a year ago, the board sat down at a dinner, and all the members instantly pledged more than $40,000, he said.

“Today, in less than a year, I cannot imagine how much we have accomplished. The results are incredible,” said Chen. “Taishan officials even showed up to our banquet. Seattle Taishanese have already made an impression and name in Taishan.”

More than 1 million people outside China are estimated to have origins in Taishan. The most prominent local Taishanese is U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke. His grandfather was from Taishan and worked as a houseboy a mile from Olympia. Locke often joked in his speeches as governor that it took a century for the Locke family to walk one mile to the Capitol. His dad, Jimmy, had fought in World War II.

Other well-known Taishan leaders including the late Ark Chin, former president of Kramer, Chin and Mayo and a regent of the board of the University of Washington.

Reaching the mainstream

Usually Chinese immigrants tend to celebrate with their own kin. But the WTA invited all the Asian elected and other mainstream officials to attend the organization’s founding banquet. Dignitaries attending the organization’s founding banquet included Mayor Mike McGinn; Reps. Cindy Ryu, Sharon Tomiko Santos, Luis Moscoso; and Sens. Bob Hasegawa and Adam Kline. (end)

To read the publisher’s blog in Chinese, visit

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