Shiny legacy from HemisFair hints at wealth of SAMA’s Asian Wing

A shiny hint heralding the wealth of Asian art housed in the Lenora and Walter F. Brown Asian Art Wing recently was installed across the river from the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Leiwen, the interwoven thunder pattern on the nine pewter panels, was popular on bronze vessels during the Shang Dynasty, 1800-1200 BCE. These particular panels were crafted for and installed in the Taiwanese Pavilion during HemisFair 1968.

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May Lam donated 14 pairs of the rescued 3 x 1-foot panels to the San Antonio River Foundation during ceremonies at the Asian New Year Celebration more than five years ago. She wanted them to serve as a tribute to the rich cultural contributions of early Chinese immigrants to San Antonio, particularly the hundreds General John Pershing brought from Mexico as the United States entered World War I (I would include a photo of the adjacent panel explaining this and spare myself from typing, but I stubbornly refuse to reproduce materials failing to recognize “River Walk” as two words.).

While General Pershing was pursuing Pancho Villa in Mexico, Chinese businessmen had gathered around his encampments, operating stores and  cafés for his troops. When he returned to San Antonio in 1917, many of the Chinese retreated under his protection and were encamped at For Sam Houston until President Harding granted them legal resident status in 1921.

According to author Mel Brown in Chinese Heart of Texas, some of these new San Antonians, known as “Pershing Chinese,” were able to qualify as “merchants,” an exception to the 1882 Exclusion Act that deprived Chinese of many rights accorded other immigrants and banned additional Chinese immigration. 

Brown wrote: 

Following release from Fort Sam, a somewhat communal lifestyle was assumed at first as the Chinese Camp men stuck together for practical reasons and mutual assistance. If one of them had skills as a cook, the group contributed economically to help establish his café. As the business grew, that man hired his cronies or pitched in monetarily to set up another’s store or café…. This communal response to problems or needs was typical of the Chinese immigrant experience in America. It was a rich cultural resource which strengthened all the Cantonese communities during many years of prejudice, discrimination and exclusion. 

The Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943.

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