It was a big day for Pei-lin Yu (余琲琳), Associate Professor of Boise State University’s Department of Anthropology. The September 18 event was the long-awaited official opening ceremony of the Idaho Chinese gold miners exhibit that she orchestrated at the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology. Many Chinese families brought their children to learn about Chinese heritage. Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and then-Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee both attended and spoke at the event to show their support to the Chinese community.
In her remarks, Pei-lin thanked the museum director Stephen Cox, the U.S. Forest Service, the Boise State Osher Institute, the Asian American Comparative Collection, and the Idaho Humanities Council for their contributions to make the exhibit a permanent display, which is the only one of its kind in Boise that showcases Chinese gold miners’ presence in Idaho. Clad in a black shirt with a dragon that she personally painted as an emblem of the exhibit, she talked about the significance of the exhibit. “It is time for us to appreciate this history, to unerase it, and put it in the foreground. There has been a hard time in the USA, namely the anti-Asian hate, but it is events and gatherings like this that will help to cure the problem.”
Pei-lin’s appearance may not look very “Asian,” but she is indeed a “daughter of Taiwan,” or Taichung, to be specific. Her father Juinn Yu (余俊尚) came to the United States in the 1960’s to pursue his doctoral degree and got married with Pei-lin’s American mother. Pei-lin spent her childhood years in New Mexico where she made many good friends with Native American classmates and frequently visited Indian reservations. Growing up in such a multicultural environment, at home and in school, ignited her curiosity in culture, history, and nature, which is why she chose archaeology and anthropology as her profession.
Throughout her career, Pei-lin has placed a special focus on ethnoarchaeology which blends cultural and scientific approaches to understanding the past. She strived to learn indigenous people’s cultural heritage and wisdom, especially how they manage climate change and natural hazards. As she put it so well, her goal is to “find the past in ourselves, and ourselves in the past.” She tries to make her scientific findings relevant in such way that modern society can learn to become more mindful of our ecosystem and thus more ethical and resilient.
It was with the same goal that she became a Senior Fulbright Research Fellow in 2016 and spent time with Amis, Paiwan, and Bunun tribes to investigate Taiwan aboriginal people’s traditional gardening practices. The project became a father-daughter teamwork, because Pei-lin’s father would serve as her interpreter with tribal elders who speak Japanese.
Pei-lin has not seen her father for three years due to COVID19 restrictions. But now with the quarantine measures eased, she is excited to go back to Taichung in October and just hang out with her father. She also hopes to visit the Amis tribal elders in Donghe Township again and see how they are doing.
As a professional archaeologist and anthropologist, Pei-lin is connecting people for better understanding and cooperation — the past and present; the American community and the Chinese community, the indigenous people and non-indigenous people, as well as the United States and Taiwan. She is indeed the “Glory of Taiwan” that does us proud.
For more information on Pei-lin’s exhibit on Chinese gold miners in Idaho, please refer to: