Chinese salute their culture
July 21, 2005

Center will foster knowledge about history, traditions

By Andrea Kelly

Built with symbolism and tradition, the new Chinese Cultural Center is to open on the Northwest Side next month.  

The center, 1288 W. River Road, has been in the works for many years, prompted by the Tucson Chinese Association's need for a larger facility, said Richard Fe Tom, the center's architect.  

In addition to being president of The Architecture Co., the group that designed the building, Tom also is a member of the Tucson Chinese Association's board of directors. He said the center will allow more people, Chinese or not, to learn about Chinese culture and traditions.

 The 16,000-square-foot center is to open Aug. 21 and will include a garden for outdoor performances; art and language classrooms for the association's Chinese school; basketball and volleyball courts; a large multi-purpose room that can be used for as many as 200 people to attend presentations, dinners or large events; a library; offices for the association's administration; and a full-size Chinese kitchen with three built-in woks, which will also be able to accommodate cooking classes.  

The Tucson Chinese School also will start classes on Aug. 21, and rooms in the center will be available for rent to the community, said Susan Chan, one of 25 members of the Tucson Chinese Association's governing board.  

Chinese artifacts on display throughout the center will tie visitors to Chinese culture, Tom said.  

Chan said the artifacts will come straight from the community. Because they are family heirlooms on loan from Tucson's Chinese community, these artifacts will help showcase different generations of Chinese culture, Chan said.  

The new community center was sparked by the growing population of ethnic Chinese in Tucson, Chan said.

 Tom said the former Chinese center was in a much older building near East Sixth Street and North Fourth Avenue, and was not serving the group's needs.

 Tucson is home to a community of more than 5,000 ethnic Chinese, according to the 2000 census, Chan said.  

The center will be used to continue a strong Chinese cultural tradition in Tucson, Tom said.  

"We try to teach not just the Chinese community, but everyone that Chinese people have been here (in Tucson) since the 1870s," something that not even many Chinese realize, Tom said.  

He said he designed the center to look like a ship because that is how the Chinese made their way to Tucson, Tom said.  

The windows to the garden look like portholes, the front of the building looks like the bow of a ship and the ceiling inside looks like a cloud-speckled sky.  

"With every project that I do, I try to find a story," Tom said. "This building is the story of the Chinese landing in the desert from their ship."  

The red bricks enclosing the garden are red because that is the color of happiness in Chinese culture, Tom said.  

● Contact reporter Andrea Kelly at 307-0773 or