Chinese History of Alaska’s Canning Industry

Katherine Ringsmuth, a historian and a professor at University of Alaska, first introduced me to Jeff Chen who is a video producer for Alaska Insight, a public affairs show on Alaska Public Media. Jeff was interested in doing a story on the contribution of Asian cannery workers in salmon canning industry, starting with the Chinese workers. Jeff called me about this project, and I suggested a number of people he could talk to. However, due to the time constraint of the video, Jeff had to limit the number of people in the interviews to three, which include Katherine, myself, and Fred Wong who had worked in Alaska for an incredible 54 seasons.

Jeff told me that the short video will be posted online as a stand-alone video and embedded into a longer 25-minutes public affairs show Alaska Insight, which will air on local TV. The video about Asians in Alaska seems to make a lot of sense, especially May happens to be the AAPI Heritage Month. Salmon fishing has been a big business in Northwest states as well as in Alaska, but nowhere was the impact of the salmon canning industry as huge as Alaska. Prior to WW2, canned salmon was the top product in value for the territory. Given the dominance of Asian employment in the canneries, it is not surprising that there has been a long history of Asian workers in Alaska. For decades from late 19th century to WW2, each year, thousands of Asians had been shipped to work in remote canneries during the salmon season.

Jeff proceeded and interviewed Katerine and Fred virtually on Zoom. However, for my interview, Jeff had a different plan. It happens that Jeff was coming to the Bay Area the 2nd week of May, and as a result, we set up an in person interview at my home. A week later, Jeff send us the link to the video. It is quite amazing that the short video covered a lot of ground. It includes video footages inside the cannery, photos of the cannery crew, and the three interviews. In less than 5 minutes, it painted a clear picture of the history of Chinese cannery workers in Alaska. Here are the two links he sent id me:

Website with embedded YouTube link:

Facebook video:

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