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USC Digital Archive to Preserve Overlooked Taiwanese-American History

The University of Southern California (USC) has launched a new effort to collect and preserve local and national Taiwanese-American history in the form of a Taiwanese American Digital Archive at the USC Libraries.

Documents collected as part of the creation of the USC Taiwanese American Digital Archive, a project to document local and national Taiwanese-American history. Photo by Ho Chie Tsai

"While there exists a few collections on Taiwanese Americans, in many cases, Taiwanese American history is largely overlooked and there is a large gap in the historical record regarding Taiwanese Americans, "USC resident archivist Joanna Chen Cham told NBC News. "USC is uniquely positioned geographically and through community ties to capture this historical record before it is too late. I believe that Taiwanese Americans have a unique history and I am eager to continue this project and initiative as we move forward."

The project plans to collect, digitize, and return most of the original source material back to the families that provide them. Cham, a second-generation Taiwanese American, is leading the effort under the direction of USC East Asian Library head Kenneth Klein.

"From a community perspective, this is an important project because many of our first generation immigrants who came to the US as early as the 1950s, and in larger numbers post-1965, are in their 70s or 80s," Ho Chie Tsai, founder of nonprofit TaiwaneseAmerican.org, told NBC News in an email. "During the martial-law era of Taiwan, their history and stories had been suppressed by the Nationalist government. And even after martial law was lifted in 1987, for so long, many more were even afraid to share their stories for fear of what might happen to them. It was this fear and anger, yet their hope for a better Taiwan, that many of my parents' generation worked hard, here in the US, to create networks and communities that embraced their unique Taiwanese identity."

Tsai hopes that this project will inspire second- and third-generation Taiwanese Americans to talk to their parents and grandparents about their immigration experiences, while asking if they have any old documents, including letters, photographs, event flyers, and conference booklets.

"Sometimes the best and most important stories have been sitting there, right in front of you, in an old photo album or shoe box that a relative has kept and treasured," said Tsai.

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This story has been updated to include comment by Joanna Chen Cham.

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