By 1940, nearly 40,000 American-born Chinese were living in the U.S., grappling with uniquely bicultural issues regarding identity, family, career, and heritage. Originating in Lake Tahoe in 1933, the Chinese Christian Youth Conference (CCYC) was an unprecedented resource for Chinese American youth (from high school to post-college age) to grow as a new American community. “For youth, of youth, by youth,” the conference was organized entirely by youth cabinet members, offering the opportunity to explore Christianity without imposing religious doctrine in any way.
For one week, young men and women of faith or without participated in mentor-led discussions and enjoyed summer-camp activities like talent shows and formal dances. In 1943, the director of the China Institute in New York, Dr. ChihMeng, proposed that a conference be extended east due to the success of the Tahoe conferences. After initial worries and hurdles including parental disapproval, time constraints, and the geographic separation of East Coast communities, the first CCYC of the East retreat took place at Silver Bay in New York in 1944, becoming the largest East Coast gathering of a Chinese American-organized youth group. In the relaxed and friendly atmosphere of Silver Bay, barriers of subgroups fell away, forging a new sense of Chinese American consciousness in a traditionally splintered region. In the words of conference attendee Shelley Mark, “Silver Bay has served to pry open the lid from the box of traditional isolation….It has brought together young men and women endowed with the same rich heritage and conscious of the same common goals.”