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'A lot of pain associated' | Spokane's Asian American community hopes 50th Expo '74 celebration showcases history of fair

Asian Americans were responsible for most of the work to create the World's Fair.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The city of Spokane on Wednesday announced a two-month-long celebration for the 50th anniversary of Expo '74, a world fair held in Spokane in 1974.

Expo '74 attracted more than 5.2 million people to what is now Riverfront Park between May-November 1974, making Spokane the smallest city to ever host a World's Fair. Although the exposition revitalized the downtown district and made Riverfront Park into what it is now, Spokane's Asian American community still feels the pain associated with its construction.

"Asian Americans helped build what Spokane is and the historical land markers we have now," said Vina Cathcart, a Spokane resident and first-generation Vietnamese parent.

Cathcart has lived in Spokane her whole life. She said she wonders why more people don't know about the group of people that made Spokane's World Fair possible.

"A lot of the Asian Americans were not included in that story," Cathcart said.

Asian Americans were responsible for most of the work to create the World's Fair. Most laborers worked on the railroad. But when the World's Fair arrived, those same laborers transitioned to build Expo '74.

"Even before Expo 74, where everything was standing, there was a rail yard," said Matt Santangelo, the program manager of the 50th Expo '74 celebration. "That group of people really came in and did the hard labor."

The city announced plans for a two-month-long celebration for the 50th anniversary of the World's Fair, and Santangelo hopes to tell the community those lost stories.

"All of our community, the chance to tell the story of the impact of the fair," Santangelo said. "Part of the World's Fair is recognizing the impact, good, bad and indifferent, and that's part of our goal for this next year, the 50th celebration."

In 1974, Spokane was the smallest metropolitan city to host the World's Fair.

"Chinese immigrants work hard to provide for their family," said Weiling Zhu, the president of the Chinese Association.

Even though they aren't widely recognized, Zhu said Spokane's Chinese population should be proud.

"The expo was one of the testimonies of the success of our community, and I'm so proud that the Chinese community has been a significant part of it," he said.

As for Cathcart, she said she is excited to see how her culture rectifies history a little bit. Not necessarily to rewrite it, but acknowledge all of these past voices.

Some of the structures from the World's Fair still exist in downtown Spokane, including the Clock Tower and the Pavilion.

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