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Standing in the parkette on the corner of Murray Avenue and Darlington Road, Leo Hsu shared what it was like growing up in Squirrel Hill as a Chinese-American kid in the 1980s. He brought with him a manilla folder containing photographs of the area he took while a teenager.
Pointing up Murray Avenue for the benefit of roughly 20 people on this May 21 walking tour, Hsu passed around a photograph from 1987 of the former Ding Ho Oriental Grocery Store — a place he said his mother frequented. Then a budding photographer, Hsu said he used to develop his photographs at the former Photoshop on Forbes Avenue. Hsu is now a photography professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
(Left) Leo Hsu, a Carnegie Mellon University photography professor, talks about his experience growing up in Squirrel Hill. (Right) Attendees pass around a photo taken by Leo Hsu in 1987 of the former Ding Ho Oriental Grocery Store in Squirrel Hill on Murray Avenue. Owner Mike Chen, left in the photo, now owns Squirrel Hill’s Everyday Noodles on Forbes Avenue. (Photos by Clare Sheedy/PublicSource)
Stopping at Everyday Noodles on Forbes Avenue, Hsu ran inside and emerged with owner Mike Chen, who once also owned Ding Ho Oriental Grocery Store. Smiling, Hsu handed Chen the bygone photograph he took of him in the grocery store. Chen, a Taiwanese immigrant, shared what it was like opening and running businesses in Squirrel Hill.
When he first opened Everyday Noodles, Chen said he was worried customers wouldn’t like the thin skin on his dumplings. He added that, at first, customers fussed at the absence of dishes like General Tso’s, but that, with time, customers grew to love his menu. Leaving Chen with the photograph, the group then made their way to the Chinese Cemetery section of Homewood Cemetery.
Purchased and organized by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in 1901, some 250 Chinese-Americans rest in section 3 of the Homewood Cemetery.
Lena Chen of the JADED Collective, which organized the walking tour, shared that the first Chinese migrants to come to the Pittsburgh area came to work in factories like the Beaver Falls Cutlery Co. and were not welcomed by white community members. Chen also shared East Asian burial practices like the Hungry Ghost Festival, a monthlong festival to honor and remember those who have died.
Walking up the hill in the Chinese cemetery section, attendee Jia Ji stayed behind to cleanse a gravestone with incense.
Formed last spring, JADED is a collective of Asian American Pacific Islander artists and organizers. Through intimate, intergenerational local programming, JADED says it seeks to build “interethnic coalitions to create more safe spaces of kinship.” Its future programming will be announced on its webpage and Instagram.
Clare Sheedy is a visuals intern for PublicSource. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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