Karis Lee

Karis Lee is a recent graduate of William & Mary and an aspiring educator. When she's not researching the stories of the DMV's immigrant communities, she enjoys indulging in hot cheetos, writing mediocre iphone notes poetry, and watching Korean dramas. 

Posts by Karis Lee

“Porn Practically Overnight:” Adult Bookstores Make Washington Home

14th St. NW, 1972

Much like any city, Washington’s landscape is ever evolving, and the rise of gentrification has transformed many of the city’s neighborhoods. Take downtown 14th street, for example. Today, 14th street offers all the hangout spots a D.C. millennial yuppie might desire: hip bars, coffee shops, sleek gyms equipped with spin bikes... In the 1970s and 1980s, though, a less-conventional business threatened to displace the street’s small neighborhood shops: adult bookstores.

“Ground [the statues] into dust!” – The Downfall of Two District Memorials

The Discovery

With the recent protests in response to the murder of George Floyd and the continued unearthing of our nation’s racist history, conversation regarding what history we set in stone is back at the forefront. In the District, memorial removals are extremely rare occurrences, but that doesn’t mean they have never happened before. In the late 1950s, two of the Capitol building’s most significant monuments were removed, despite the fact that a future president himself advocated for their installment: Horatio Greenough’s The Rescue and Luigi Persico’s Discovery of America. Largely due to public pressure, the statues were taken down during the building’s remodeling in 1958 and never re-erected.

Washington Post Oct 15, 1976

The District’s Own Asian Gatsby: Koreagate & the “Tongsun Park Problem”

Depending on how you look at it, the 1976 Koreagate scandal didn’t really start with Tongsun Park. But when the media caught wind of “the most sweeping allegations of congressional corruption ever investigated by the foreign government,” Tongsun Park’s charm and personality made him an entertaining antagonist. Part of the intrigue was that Park’s story didn’t conform to the stereotypical immigrant narrative. Park, born in 1935, grew up with wealth. By the 1970s, Park’s opulence – “expensive homes, lavish Embassy Row parties, worldwide jet travel and purchase of his own downtown office building” – made him a Washington celebrity, the District’s “Asian Gatsby.”

National Museum of the American Indian

Skeletons in the Closet: the Smithsonian’s Native American Remains and the Founding of the National Museum of the American Indian

The Smithsonian museums attract millions of D.C. locals and tourists alike every year, but in the late 1980s, the Institution found its reputation at risk. As Smithsonian spokeswoman Madeline Jacobs described in October of 1989, “The calls and letters” during that period were “like a flood.""Even important topics like our divestment from South Africa didn't get this much attention,” Jacobs told The Washington Post.

What sparked the uproar? In 1989, the Smithsonian reportedly held 35,000 skeletal remains of Indigenous peoples, 18,500 of which were Native American remains.

Print shows a hen with three chicks in a farmyard.

Fowl Play in Washington: the City’s History of Chicken Thievery

Washington has seen its fair share of crimes: mafia operations, drug networks, triple murder… But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one of the city’s most pervasive crimes was one we today might find difficult to imagine: chicken thievery. In today’s urban landscape, the phenomenon may seem difficult to imagine; but 150 years ago chicken robbery was widespread -- and serious business. The practice was dangerous and, at times, even fatal.

Chinese American soldiers

"Together, Together:" D.C.'s Chinese March in Mass for the First Time

As the new PBS documentary Asian-Americans notes, many Asian-American immigrants maintained strong bonds to their home countries and were deeply affected by World War II conflicts that occurred in the Pacific theater. In fact, even before U.S. involvement and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Asian-Americans from the D.C. area closely followed the brewing conflict between China and Japan. Many still had close relatives in China, and Japanese imperialist expansion into China and the resulting Second Sino-Japanese War moved Chinese-Americans at home to organize. On July 7, 1938, in recognition of the one year anniversary of the war’s outbreak, D.C. Chinatown's shops and restaurants closed as the Chinese community gathered in the streets.

Triple Murder in D.C.: Ziang Sung Wan & the Unsolved Mystery that Shocked the Nation

Wan in courtroom

As far as Chinese immigrants go, Dr. Theodore Ting Wong, Chang Hsi Hsie, and Ben Sen Wu were doing alright for themselves. All three were well educated, hailed from affluent Chinese families, spoke nearly fluent English, and served as diplomats for the Chinese Legation. Ushering in the Chinese New Year on the evening of January 29, 1919, the three men had much to celebrate and even more work to get to the next day. But by morning, the mission house was eerily quiet. The postman rang the doorbell in vain; the milk delivery was left sweating on the stoop; the laundry package sat unattended by the door. Concerned, a neighbor entered the house through an open window. What he found sparked a case that would headline papers for years, reach the Supreme Court, and even pave the way for our “right to remain silent.” It was January 31, 1919, and the three residents of the mission had been dead two days.

The History & Survival of Washington D.C.’s Chinatown

The Friendship Arch in D.C.’s Chinatown today

When walking the streets of downtown D.C. near Penn Quarter, Washington’s Chinatown is difficult to miss.  The vibrant Friendship Archway marks the entrance of the neighborhood, and if you look closely, you’ll even be able to spot markers of the Chinese zodiac on the crosswalks. But despite the area’s seemingly thriving shops and restaurants, Chinatown’s Chinese population today is estimated to be as low as 300. Things weren’t always this way, though. In fact, Chinatown was first located in a different D.C. neighborhood altogether. So how did Washington’s Chinese community first develop? What was Chinatown like before, and how and why did that change?

The Filipino Women’s Club of Washington D.C.

Filipino Woman's Club, Washington, D.C.

When the U.S. entered WWII in late 1941, women all over Washington stepped up to fulfill wartime needs; and Filipino women were certainly no exception. The Filipino Women's Club of Washington, formed in 1943, played a crucial role in the war effort and inspired community when the city most needed it. 

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