Nicknamed the “Dean of Chinese American History,” Lai has made significant academic contributions to this field throughout his life. He has written 10 books and over 100 articles on the Chinese American experience, including the original districts in Guangdong Province and the Chinese American detention at Angel Island’s Immigration Station.
But Lai’s Chinese American contributions were not recognized by the Chinatown community following his death—until now. Dozens of Chinese Americans gathered in front of San Francisco Public Library’s Chinatown branch on December 10th, 2011 to commemorate Him Mark Lai for his Chinese American contributions, renaming the Chinatown Branch in his name and honoring his scholarly contributions with two bilingual plaques.
The San Francisco Chinatown Branch Library will now be known as the Chinatown/Him Mark Lai Branch Library.
“I feel honored, and Thank You for the friend’s help to get this finalized,” said Laura Lai, Him Mark Hai’s husband. “He should be very happy.”
This rededication ceremony was made possible by the Him Mark Lai Library Committee, a group formed by friends, colleagues and community activists who spent a year actively gathering signatures, sending letters and signing petitions to memorialize Lai’s academic legacy. The Library Commission unanimously approved this proposal on November 10, 2010, a year ago today.
Guests included City Librarian, Luis Herrera; Supervisor David Chiu; Library Commission President, Jewelle Gomez; Supervisor Eric Mar; and Department of Public Works Interim Director, Mohammed Nuru.
Eric Mar, Supervisor of the Richmond District, is proud the San Francisco Public library has dedicated its Chinatown branch to Him Mark Lai. He is also a Professor at San Francisco State University, teaching Asian American Studies for the last 19 years.
“Him Mark Lai was the type of scholar we looked up to because he was a people’s scholar,” he said.
David Chiu, the President of the Board of Supervisors and Supervisor representing Chinatown, explains the impact of Him Mark Lai’s legacy. “I think without Him Mark Lai, I know that Asian American elected officials, my colleague [Supervisor] Eric [Mar] and I will not [be] stand[ing] here representing this city,” exclaimed Chiu on his microphone while standing on the Library’s Balcony.
“[Lai] was someone who founded publications, who led activisms, who made sure that the Asian American community we have here is where we are today.”
Chiu also suggested Him Mark Lai would implore Chinese Americans to play active roles in the community, had he been been alive to advance his contributions. Without community involvement, Chiu mentions, the Chinese American community would continue its historical struggles with, for instance, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the persecution of Chinese Americans by the FBI in 1950.
“It’s important for the community and young people to get involved in making we have a seat in the table,” said Chiu, “making sure that the buildings are not only named after our great leaders but that the institution themselves that are supposed to serve the community are serving the community.”
Photos courtesy of Jason Doiy Photography