“Dean of Chinese American Studies”
Him Mark Lai, Co-Founder of the “In Search of Roots” Program (尋根之旅項目), is an American historian. Born in 1925 in San Francisco, he has devoted most of his life to collecting, researching and writing about Chinese American history and its communities.
While his professional training and career has been as a mechanical engineer, Him Mark Lai’s true passion and avocation has been Chinese American history. Him Mark has spent decades avidly searching for and collecting Chinese-sourced and English-sourced materials on Chinese American history. His meticulous research has resulted in seminal works published, which have contributed to the richness and depth of Chinese American and indeed Asian American studies. The Chronicle of Higher Education has proclaimed Him Mark Lai as “the Scholar who legitimized the study of Chinese America.”
Since 1991, Him Mark Lai has served as the historical and geographical adviser for the In Search of Roots program. He has developed and authored the reference materials that provide the historical context in which the Roots Interns learn of their ancestral heritage. More importantly, through his intimate knowledge of Chinese American migration and history, Him Mark has been an invaluable resource in identifying and locating ancestral villages, a process made the more complex given the history of “paper names” and other complexities resulting from distance, time, and the diversity of the Chinese people.
Remember the Source
Inaugurated in 1991, the In Search of Roots Program is the flagship program of the Chinese Culture Center. The intensive, yearlong family history research program allows young Chinese Americans to gain a better appreciation of their Chinese heritage.
“… the In Search of Roots program has been helping young Asian Americans gain a greater appreciation and understanding of their complex identity. This task is achieved through a year-long process, beginning with the research of their roots in America. The interns study their origins – the history of the people of … the Guangdong province and their migration to the United States. Through oral interviews of family members and research at the National Archives in San Bruno, each intern begins to sketch an image of their ancestral family and of the individuals and events that have shaped their current personal identity. This research and study continues as the interns journey to their ancestral villages in China. In doing so, cultural influences come full circle – the interns are physically and visually linked to their past and all the research and study performed in the previous months acquires a tangible form. The end result is complex and often emotionally overwhelming. In order to better understand the In Search of Roots experience, the interns compile and sift through all their research and recently acquired knowledge… The search for one’s roots and personal identity is an eternal one, always involving more than just one’s past. However, as the interns learned, the understanding of their history, centuries before their own conception, is important to understanding the powerful impact of heritage on their current identity. As interns have learned now, they must never forget the Chinese saying “yinshui siyuan” (飲水思源) – “when drinking water, remember the source.” — 2007 In Search of Roots Interns
The mission of the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco is to preserve, promote, and influence the course of Chinese and Chinese American culture. The Chinese Culture Center’s In Search of Roots program is a highly personal and transformative experience for the individual interns who undertake the yearlong journey. The resulting stories have the unique ability to connect individuals, families, and communities through the personal, yet universal experience of migration.
The Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco proudly inaugurates the Him Mark Lai Heritage Fund to ensure the continuation of the In Search of Roots Program. The Fund will provide for staffing support and modest stipends for the volunteer Team Leaders, research consultants, and advisors to the Program.
Your donations to the Him Mark Lai Heritage Fund honor the man and the program.
To donate by check, please make check payable to the Chinese Culture Foundation of S.F and mail to: 750 Kearny St., 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94108.
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