The Edmond Sun

Opinion

January 30, 2007

Asian District offers cultural experience

EDMOND — We are part of the Pacific culture, California Gov. Edmund Brown said in January of 1975 in recognition of the ties that state has had with Asia throughout much of its history. But such a statement could not have been made about Oklahoma and its capitol at that time. For in the early 1970s the Oklahoma City area was host to a small Asian population with little impact on the city.

Three Chinese restaurants were in operation in the Oklahoma City of that time. The only Asian food market found within its boundaries was a television repair shop on 10th Street in the downtown area where the proprietor’s Japanese wife sold items from a freezer primarily to Asian women who were married to Air Force personnel stationed at Tinker Air Force Base.

But in the summer of 1975 a series of trips undertaken by several Oklahoma City residents to Arkansas began a process that was to transform Oklahoma City into a community with a sizable Asian population, which has served to make it a participant in the Pacific culture Ellis Edwards and Clyde Watts journeyed to Fort Chafee in Arkansas and took hundreds of Vietnamese refugees back to Oklahoma City with them.

Edwards recalls how both he and Watts had many people sleeping on their sofas and floors during that time. When the refugees departed Vietnam, they only were permitted to take a small bag of belongings with them, and Edwards recalls that a change of clothes was all most of them had. Edwards often would go to radio stations and ask listeners who needed any type of work done to contact him so the individual refugees could begin to earn money.

On the whole, the Oklahoma City community was sympathetic to the plight of the new arrivals, and Edwards reports many churches and individuals came forward to sponsor them. Thousands more Vietnamese would come to Oklahoma City in the ensuing decades to join family members and friends who had settled here.

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