Tag Archives: Burke High School

Omaha’s Forgotten Chinatown

February 23, 2018 by
Photography by Nebraska Chinese Association
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

Lion dancers leap into the air. Traditional Chinese instruments evoke tunes of a distant land. Dancing troupes perform in multi-colored costumes. There are even contemporary Chinese pop songs and, of course, plenty of Chinese food for guests.

It’s the Omaha’s Chinese Lunar New Year Gala. The festivities—March 3 at Burke High School—bring together the diverse segments of Omaha’s Chinese community: recent immigrants to the United States, overseas students, American-born Chinese, mixed-race families, along with friends and families who don’t have any personal claim to being Chinese (other than their possible interest in Chinese culture). Everyone is welcome.

The 2018 gala welcomes the Year of the Dog (the latest zodiac animal represented in the Chinese lunar calendar’s 12-year cycle). It’s also the 10th anniversary of consecutive festivities hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association (formerly known as the Omaha Chinese Community Association).

But the history of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations goes back much further than 10 years in Omaha. In fact, back when Qing Dynasty emperors still ruled “the Middle Kingdom,” Omaha had its very own (albeit small) Chinatown.

Although Omaha’s Chinese population is thriving in the early 21st century, the city’s historic Chinatown has been largely forgotten. This edition of Omaha Magazine tells the story of Omaha’s Chinatown leading up to the city’s current Chinese community.

Visit omahachinese.net to learn more or to purchase tickets for the Lunar New Year Gala. Tickets can also be purchased at the Asian Market (321 N. 76th St.). Advanced ticket purchase is required.

Catch glimpses of past NCA/OCCA Lunar New Year Galas:

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

See other Omaha-Chinese content from the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine:

Year of the Dog

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Bow. Wow. Holy cow.

2018 is a major milestone for Omaha Magazine. The current issue marks the first edition in our 36th volume—the completion of 35 years of local magazine publishing. 

Publisher Todd Lemke started in local magazine publishing with City Slicker in March 1983. After City Slicker, he merged with Our City Magazine. When he realized the copyright for Omaha Magazine had become available, he snapped up the brand. Omaha Magazine has been his flagship publication ever since. However, that doesn’t mean it’s his only title. Omaha Magazine staff (and the website
omahamagazine.com) produce a host of titles that include Encounter, B2B Magazine, Family Guide, OmahaHome, and many more that have come and gone over the years.

2018 is also Year of the Dog in the Chinese zodiac. The lunar zodiac features a 12-year cycle with 12 corresponding animals. Legend has it that the animals are ordered according to their finish in a mythological race across a river. Rat finished first because he rode on top of Ox’s head and jumped onto the opposite shore (followed by Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig). 

The Lunar New year officially began on Friday, Feb. 16. Traditionally, the holiday is the year’s most important occasion for Chinese families all over the world. It’s like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter all rolled together. After celebrating the occasion with loved ones, many Chinese families residing in the Omaha metro will celebrate again on March 3 with the Nebraska Chinese Association’s Lunar New Year Gala at Burke High School. More than 30 percent of the attendance, organizers say, comes from local folks who are not Chinese.

Everyone is welcome. But tickets must be purchased in advance. Find out more details in this issue’s Calendar of Events. The occasion is the 10th consecutive Lunar New Year gala hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association (formerly the Omaha Chinese Culture Association).

Of course, the local Chinese community dates back much longer than 10 years. There has been a Chinese demographic segment of Omaha’s population since the mid-1800s. The March/April issue of Omaha Magazine explores that history with a series of connected stories that probe the forgotten history of Omaha’s Chinatown, a Chinese community timeline leading up to today, and the story of two buildings that provide a tangible link to the past: King Fong Cafe (currently under renovation) and the last site of the local branch of the On Leong Tong (recognized in late 2017 on the National Register of Historic Places).

This in-depth package of stories on Omaha’s Chinese community is also special for me on a personal level. I lived in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong for five years, and my wife is Chinese from the former British colony. Our daughter was born in Omaha in 2017 (the Year of the Chicken), and her biracial heritage means that the ongoing story of Omaha’s Chinese-American narrative is our story, too. 

I was born in Omaha (in the Year of the Ox) and I can trace my American lineage back through generations of immigrants to North America since before the American Revolutionary War. Although my wife is a more recent immigrant, our daughter is nothing but American. She has the exact same birthright that I enjoy, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. 

It is my hope that she—and anyone else with ties to Omaha’s Chinese community, or anyone simply interested in the history of our city—finds this issue to be a keepsake addition to the family library.

As usual, this edition also offers all the great arts and culture stories, dining features, profiles, and so much more that our readers have come to expect. Every issue of Omaha Magazine is a unique record of a point in time for our shared city. In recent years, the company has embraced the motto, “It’s about all of us.” This is truly our mission. Follow us on social media (@omahamagazine on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) for updates, and subscribe to the magazine at omahamagazine.com/subscribe.

Thanks for reading!


See more Omaha-Chinese content from the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine:


Doug Meigs is the executive editor of Omaha Publications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This letter was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Mark Erikson

October 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Don’t bother trying to contact Mark Erikson on a Monday night.

From now until, well—forever—he’s booked.

On Monday nights, you’ll find Erikson and more than 100 other Nebraska men singing their hearts out at a Presbyterian church in Fremont. They travel in from all over. Erikson drives from Papillion, an 80-mile round trip. Other members make the trek from South Sioux City, Beatrice, and Columbus. Erikson’s work life may take him to another state, but he’ll fly in just for practice, then back. He moves mountains to make sure he’s in his spot on the riser.

“Just a solid fact of life,” he explains.

There’s always a quorum for rehearsal of the Pathfinder Chorus.

“Every Monday at practice, we put all of life’s challenges aside. It’s like a three-hour break in the week. I’m with my buddies. And we’re singing really well,” says Erikson. “I guess it’s kind of a guy thing.”

That “guy thing” is an award-winning, nationally-recognized barbershop chorus. Erikson’s modesty masks the uniqueness of this ensemble. Widely diverse, both in age and professions, the 43-year-old group first qualified to perform at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s International Competition in 2010. They’ve continued to qualify and place every year since, a rare feat for a group made up of non-music professionals.

Barbershop harmonizing and a cappella singing in general have enjoyed resurgence in popularity in recent years, thanks to movies like Pitch Perfect and Jimmy Fallon’s “Ragtime Gals” skits.

“It really has made a difference,” says Erikson. “It’s bringing barbershop to the forefront of a new generation, introducing a music style that can fit them too. They don’t have to stop singing after high school. They can keep singing their whole lives.”

The youngest member of Pathfinder Chorus is 13, the oldest, 85, with all ages in between represented. Professions range from student to dairy farmer to military veteran. There are even a couple of pilots on stage. One flies B-52s, the other flies commercial jets. All have one thing in common: a love for music, harmony, and fellowship.

Erikson discovered his passion for barbershop singing while he was in the military, almost by accident. He was stationed at Norfolk Navy Base. An elderly lady who sat near him in church kept urging him to join the choir. So he did. Later, he downloaded a four-part men’s arrangement of “The Irish Blessing,” encouraged friends to sing with him, and never looked back. That was 11 years ago.

At 63, Erikson now serves as district president. He really wants to leave the chorus—and his community—better than he found it. He also umpires baseball. And many of the Pathfinder concerts are fundraisers. In 2014, they donated over $10,000 to the Salvation Army and Goodfellows charities.

“Mark has been crucial to the success of the group,” says retiring music director Pete “P.D.” Stibor. “Mark has the passion.”

The passion and the practice pay off—and not just at competition. On a sunny Saturday this summer, the Pathfinders performed at Burke High School. Despite beautiful weather, the auditorium was full of fans and groupies eager to spend the next 90 minutes enjoying perfect harmony. It was delivered with only voices as instruments, exploring great pop tunes, ballads, and the Beatles, complete with choreography—even “jazz hands.”

“I want to do this as long as I can,” says Erikson. “Then have the good sense to step down when the time is right. We give ourselves goose bumps on the risers. We look at each other and say…We just did that…It’s such a personal thing. Such an emotional thing to be able to share that with your friends.”

MarkErikson