[Noozhawk’s note: This article is one in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]

As Old Spanish Days draws near, it’s a good time to remember that Santa Barbara’s past isn’t just about the Spanish and the Chumash Indians. In fact, Santa Barbara has a rich and diverse Asian American history, a history that did much to change the farming, agriculture and downtown business climate of Santa Barbara.

In the early 1900s, most Chinese and Japanese immigrants were young men from agricultural areas who came to Santa Barbara to provide labor on local ranches and farms. They hoped that it would be their golden opportunity to earn enough money to purchase a farm or business upon return to their homeland.

Many ended up living on local ranches and farms. Others ended up settling downtown on East Canon Perdido at Anacapa Street, in a place where Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) now resides. Santa Barbara’s old Chinatown consisted of the area on East Canon Perdido from State to Santa Barbara streets.

By the early 1900s, 10 percent of Santa Barbara’s population was Chinese; by the 1920s, a great number of Japanese had immigrated into Santa Barbara. The effect they had on the growth and direction of Santa Barbara was significant.

“In testimony supporting Chinese immigration in front of a congressional committee, Mr. Hollister (the deceased William W. Hollister) said that without Chinese laborers, he and other farmers in Santa Barbara would have to give up farming entirely,” according to an excerpt from A Brief History of the Chinese in Santa Barbara by Xiaojian Zhao of UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Asian American Studies.

Over the years, SBTHP has dedicated itself to the research and preservation of Santa Barbara’s rich Asian American experience. Executive director Jarrell Jackman, along with Carl V. Harris and Catherine Rudolph, edited a comprehensive book Santa Barbara Presidio Area 1840 to the Present (c1993) that includes chapters on Santa Barbara’s Asian Americans. (This book was a collaborative effort between UCSB’s Public Historical Studies and SBTHP.) In the early 1900s, SBTHP hosted a Japanese festival. More recently, it purchased the former Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens that sits directly across from the Presidio and launched a three-part lecture series about Santa Barbara’s Asian American community.

All of these efforts ultimately lead to the formation of an Asian American Preservation Committee, which was just named an official board committee of the Trust for Historic Preservation. The committee includes Therease Chin, the chairwoman, and Juliet Betitia, Deborah Cristobal, Ambi Harsha, Peggy Hergenroether, Keith Mar, Paul Mori, Kay Van Horn and Helen Wong.

As a way to further educate and enlighten the public about the Asian American experience, the committee decided four years ago to create an Asian American Film Series.

“We developed concise criteria for the films,” said Chin, who is also an SBTHP board member and vice president and senior trust officer of Montecito Bank & Trust.

“The films must have an authentic Asian American point of view; a sensitive portrayal of Asian American communities and people; a set of culturally specific artistic innovations; be set on the East or West coasts of the United States; and have Asians as their principle characters.”

The committee spends the year culling through selections of movies from film festivals. Then, it calls the directors and or agents of the movies to see if a screener can be obtained. Once the movies are previewed, the committee reviews the appropriateness of their content, language and focus.

Since its inception, the Asian American Film Series has been a huge success and has grown in scope. Last year’s documentary, Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: the Fred Korematsu Story, included a follow-up legal panel headed by Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Brian Hill, who discussed civil rights issues pertinent to the movie.

This year’s three-part film series began Friday with Somewhere Between, a 2011 documentary that showcases the lives of four very different teenage girls who come of age in today’s America as transracial adoptees. Director Linda Goldstein Knowlton spoke at the reception afterward. The movie begins at 7 p.m. at the Alhecama Theatre, 914 Santa Barbara Street, Santa Barbara. Admission is free for members of The Trust, with a $5 suggested donation for non-members.

Next up is I Am Bruce Lee at 7 p.m. Friday, July 19, at the Alhecama Theatre, 914 Santa Barbara St. The 2012 film tells the story of the enormous impact of one of the most iconic Asian Americans of the 20th century. Through rarely seen archival footage, classic photos, and cutting-edge visual and graphics, Bruce Lee — the expert martial artist and entertainer — is shown as a man who challenged stereotypes and helped shape American consciousness. (There are clips of physical violence in this movie.)

The third movie in the series is The Cats of Mirikitani at 7 p.m. Friday, July 26, at the Alhecama. The 2006 film showcases 80-year-old Jimmy Mirikitani, who survived World War II internment camps, the bombing of Hiroshima and homelessness by creating art. When 9/11 threatens his life on the streets of New York City, filmmaker Linda Hattendorf brings him to her home and the two of them embark on a journey to confront Mirikitani’s painful past.

Sponsors of the Fourth Annual Asian American Film Series include Bank of America, John & Beverly Stauffer Foundation, Montecito Bank & Trust, Outhwaite Charitable Trust and The Towbes Foundation.

For more information about the Asian American Film Series, contact the Trust for Historic Preservation at 805.966.1279.

The SBTHP’s mission is to preserve, restore, reconstruct and interpret historic sites in Santa Barbara County. The SBTHP operates a variety of important historic properties, including:

» El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park (operated in collaboration with California State Parks),123 E. Canon Perdido. It’s open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except on major holidays.

» The former Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, 126 E. Canon Perdido across from the Presidio, which serves to interpret the history of Santa Barbara’s Asian community.

» Casa de la Guerra, the 1820s home of Presidio Comandante José de la Guerra and his family at 15 E. De la Guerra St. It’s open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, except on major holidays.

» Santa Inés Mission Mills in Solvang in agreement with the State Parks to manage and develop it as a future state park

Admission the the Trust for Historic Preservation is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors over age 62 and free to members of the museum and children 16 and under (admission includes both El Presidio and Casa de la Guerra on Saturdays and Sundays).

» Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, or call 805.965.0093.

» Click here to become a member.

» Connect with the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation on Facebook. Follow the Trust for Historic Preservation on Twitter: @SBTHP.

Nancy Shobe is a Noozhawk contributing writer. She can be contacted at shobebiz@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter: @shobebiz. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.