Besides being the most populous state in the nation, California is also the most culturally diverse state.
In Los Angeles alone, there are people from more than 140 countries, speaking 224 different languages making it the cultural hub of the Pacific Rim.
What You Need To Know
- In Los Angeles alone, there are people from more than 140 countries, speaking 224 different languages making it the cultural hub of the Pacific Rim
- Best-selling author Lisa See’s great-great grandfather first came to Northern California in the 1860s and worked with Chinese railroad workers
- By the early 20th century, the See family were among the most prosperous antique dealers in LA’s Chinatown
- In honor of this month’s celebration of AAPI culture, see has donated a trove of family artifacts to the Huntington Museum in San Marino
This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, "LA Times Today" host Lisa McRee went to downtown LA's Chinatown to meet best-selling author Lisa See.
See explains how her Chinese-American family has inspired many of her novels and why women are central to them all.
See's great-great-grandfather first came to Northern California in the 1860s and worked with Chinese railroad workers. By the early 20th century, the See family were among the most prosperous antique dealers in LA's Chinatown.
"There was one store that was my great grandmother's store, and as a little girl, I spent a lot of time there. It was such an incredible place to explore and so many ways to hide and play. Even though these are precious antiques, as a kid, I just thought it was stuff to play in," See said.
People had approached See's family for over 100 years to write a book or magazine article, but her family always rejected those offers. However, See's book "On Gold Mountain" ended up telling her family's stories.
Then came her run of best-selling novels that were historical fiction whose main characters are always female.
"I have been interested in stories that have been lost or forgotten —especially when it comes to women. We tend to learn history in terms of the front line — wars, dates, the generals, the presidents — but women, children, and families are always one step back. They are there every single step of the way," See added.
In her latest novel, "The Island of Sea Women," See left her comfort zone of Chinese stories. She focuses on the South Korean island of Jeju and the all-female collectives of free divers — the haenyeo — who for centuries supported their families by gathering abalone, urchins, and other seafood.
"They take deep breathes; they dive down 60 feet, they stay underwater two to four minutes, and harvest seafood. They are the breadwinners in their families, and their husbands stay home to take care of the kids, do the cooking and stuff like that."
When she first learned about the Haenyeo, she wondered how she did not know about them before, See said. In the 1960s, there were 23,000 Haenyeo; now, only 67 under the age of 50 still dive.
"I went to Jeju and interviewed so many divers, which was an incredible experience. These women — many of them in their late 80s early 90s —are still diving. What makes these divers remarkable is that they are the breadwinners, and that has an effect on everyone in my family, my children, and my community."
Back in Chinatown, See says she appreciates the history — what was and what is.
"History is happening to us right now. We are indeed living in a moment of history. So how we experience it right now might be very different than how we look back at it 10, 20, 50, or 100 years from now."
In honor of this month's celebration of AAPI culture, see has donated a trove of family artifacts to the Huntington Museum in San Marino. The gift includes glass photo plates and sketches from some of LA's Chinese American community's earliest and most prominent members.
They will be made available to the public soon.
Click the arrow above to watch the segment.
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