Last weekend I ventured into San Francisco's Chinatown to research one of my favorite women in history, Donaldina Cameron, a strong Scottish-American woman. At age 26, she accepted an invitation from family friends to spend a year working in the Presbyterian foreign mission home in Chinatown, leaving her home in the San Gabriel Valley. She stayed for the rest of her life.
Chinatown in 1895 was segregated from the rest of the city. Populated with tens of thousands of men working the mines, its census data regarding wives numbered only in the hundreds. Countless women and girls were being abducted from China, smuggled into California. and forced into servitude, sexual and otherwise.
Her first night in the house, Donaldina participated in what would be the first of a lifetime of dangerous rescues: abducting a young woman from a brothel with an armed police escort and a Chinese interpreter (also female). In later raids, she was known to carry an axe and her canny perception of where girls may be hidden beneath wall panels or floorboards.
The home sought to teach the women the skills they needed to build their own lives and families: reading, writing, sewing. Many found husbands, whom they met properly in the home's front parlor. The first Chinese American woman to cast a vote in 1912, Tye Leung Schulze, was a "rescue" who later became an interpreter for Cameron.
It is estimated that Cameron helped 3,000 women and girls. She never married and had no children, biologically speaking.
Today the "Cameron House" is very much alive, an active hub of the native and immigrant community in Chinatown offering programs in health, education, employment, and counseling. I was lucky enough to be there to attend the yearly "Cameron Carnival" and speak to kids who had spent from first grade until senior year in high school in the youth programs there. There are those who can trace their family back to a "rescue girl" and can visit the spot where their great great grandparents met: the front parlor.
I had a friend in film school named David Shaw who made this great 5-minute short about people waiting. And when their number came up, it was a great mystery as to what was going to happen to them when they disappeared inside the door. You learn a lot about people from the way they wait...
To keep in practice - and really because I am fascinated with human beings ESPECIALLY in Los Angeles - I keep a 3x5 sketchbook in my purse to discreetly record the goings-on around me. In this case, these are some fans waiting for the Kings to emerge from the locker room for their pre-game practice. The father and son totally nailed me. As I was finishing up the sketch they appeared by my side to see how it turned out.
This is a rare occurrence here in L.A. I'm thankful the natives stood still long enough for me to sketch their mating ritual.
Mother and daughter, which is which?
The chef at Toshi Sushi. Very welcoming, yes. Alas, he is not from Hawaii.
This is from Rembrandt's 1632 portrait of Marten Looten in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Unfinished, yes. As I was standing in the gallery drawing, flashes from the next room caught my eye. A woman in her sixties was playfully "voguing" in front of a gilt decorative screen as her companion snapped up photos. "With Facebook, everyone's a diva," I chortled to myself. Turns out it was my friend, Chad (from the Disney days), and his mother. They were a hoot! So I got a bit distracted. Who says you can't have fun in a museum?