The Museum of Chinese in America

Founded in 1980, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history, heritage, culture and diverse experiences of people of Chinese descent in the United States.

MOCA Collections

I was very excited when I started writing this blog, and it suddenly reminded me of when I was young. Every time I wrote an essay I almost always used “I was very excited…” to start writing, which is how most young people started an article in China during the certain time period. At the time we would write in this popular way even without being excited. This time, there really are a lot of things to be excited about. For more than three years since I started working here, I’ve been waiting for the day we would open our new museum. In a blink of an eye, it’s already been several month since the new museum opened. The museum’s opening has created an opportunity for us at the collections department to use the entirety of the old site to develop collections preservation and research work. Recently MOCA started a blog, and it’s really another thing to celebrate!

Something I’ve always felt was unfortunate has inspired me to write in Chinese about some thoughts on my work. Despite the fact that I am here now, before I accepted this job at MOCA, I didn’t know about this museum’s existence. This made me realize that many new Chinese immigrants may be like me— they don’t know about this museum’s existence. Moreover, they don’t know about the opportunity of interacting with this museum and more individuals, or that they are actually linked in countless ways.

Using MOCA’s blog, I prepared a series of ways using Chinese to introduce our museum’s collections to the Chinese in America, and to introduce this “home” for Chinese Americans to Chinese immigrants like me. I hope everybody will take a step towards understanding the Collections and Research Center and how we preserve Chinese American and immigrant history. I also hope I can collect even more donations from the newer immigrant generation such as historical documents, pictures, and objects so we can have a more abundant collection in our museum and enrich Chinese American history.

Getting back on track, today I’d like to tell everyone about a book in our collections that is hand-written and more than seventy years old—‘Coaching Book’.

A few months ago California apologized to Chinese Americans for the bill passed by America in 1882 known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese Exclusion Act was to last 10 years when it was first passed, but by 1902 the act became permanent. It wasn’t until 1943 when America joined forces with China against Japan that President Roosevelt finally signed a bill repealing the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited the Chinese from buying land, multiracial marriages, and more. It had an immense impact on Chinese immigrants, which created phenomena like Chinatown’s bachelor apartments and “bought papers” with fake identities that were used to come to America.

The first collection of archives MOCA constructed thirty years ago was from Chinatown’s Bachelor Apartments. I will give a detailed introduction about this collection in the next entry. Today, I want to first discuss the recent topic of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which has made many later-generation Chinese Americans search for stories about their grandparent’s “bought fake identity papers” in order to enter America.

In our museum’s archives there is an extremely precious handwritten ‘Coaching Book.’ In reality, this

A "coaching book" from the MOCA collection.

book is a manual that trains people on how to “buy papers.” The book is 50 pages front to back, and at the time Chinese immigrants struggled to memorize and recite the book’s details for a smooth entrance to America. People who bought identities had to familiarize themselves with the book and destroy the book before reaching America in order to avoid the immigration office from seizing evidence and sending them back. According to reports, 56,113 Chinese immigrants came to America from 1910 to 1940; most importantly, they entered the country from San Francisco’s Angel Island. At the time, many Chinese immigrants were taken into custody, while some were sent back.

As a result, of all the things our museum has collected this 50 page completely handwritten book is extremely precious. Inside it prepares detailed information on several generations of ancestors, direct and distant relations, and detailed information on family names, in a method of Q&A. It also prepares even more detailed questions. Those individuals who bought papers had to also familiarize themselves with detailed arrangements of the family compound.

As the picture of the book shows:

“House #7, Cheng Wang, abroad about 19 years, wife at home, son Ya Fei about 10 years old, total 3 people

House #12, Yong Qing, abroad, wife at home, no children, total 2 people

…”

This book lists 19 houses in all, including all details big and small. As you can see, our grandparent’s generation had to memorize this book in order to enter America and avoid having their visas rejected. It really wasn’t easy.

Yue Ma, Collections Manager

1.31.10

美国华人博物馆馆藏

当我怀着激动的心情,下笔这篇博客的时候,突然想起小时候,每次写文章几乎都用“怀着激动的心情”来开头,那时候,人云亦云,还没有来得及体会一下什么是激动的心情就已经写下去了。而这一次,值得激动的事情还真的不少。从三年多之前开始这份工作以来,我就盼着新馆开幕的一天。转眼,新馆开幕已经几个月了;新馆的开幕,使我们的馆藏部门有机会拥有老馆的全部面积开展馆藏保存、研究开发工作;如今MOCA又开了博,真是可喜可贺!

一件让我一直觉得非常遗憾的事使我萌发了用中文写写自己工作的想法:尽管身在这个领域当中,我却在应聘美国华人博物馆的工作之前,并不知道这个博物馆的存在。由此想到大多数来自中国的新移民可能会跟我一样,是不知道这个博物馆的,更不知道自己跟这个博物馆还有着众多的交流机会,和千丝万缕的关系。

借MOCA开博之际,我准备以系列的方式用中文向在美华人介绍我馆的馆藏,将这个在美华人之家展现给跟自己一样的华人移民,愿大家进一步了解这个保存华人移民历史的馆藏研究中心,也希望能够收藏到更多新一代移民捐赠的历史文件、照片、和实物,以丰富我馆的馆藏,丰富在美华人的历史。

言归正传,今天想展现给大家的是一本我馆珍藏的拥有七十多年历史的一本手写本《话记部》。

加州日前通过法案就美国1882年开始的《排华法案》而向华裔道歉。最初的排华法案为期10年,1902年变成永久法案,直到1943年美国与中国联手抗日时,罗斯福总统终于签法废除了排华法案。排华法案禁止华人买地、禁止华人与外族通婚等等,对华人的影响是巨大的,也由此产生了唐人街光棍公寓、“买纸”以假身份来美等现象。

美国华人博物馆30年前建馆的第一批档案就是来自于唐人街的光棍公寓,关于这一批档案,我会在下一篇作详细的介绍。今天,我想先说说最近排华法的重提,使很多华人移民后代探寻他们的祖父“买‘身份’纸”进入美国的故事。

在我馆收藏的档案中,有一本非常珍贵的1935年手书的《话记部》,它实际上是一本提供给“买纸”人的训练簿,正反面共50页,是当年华人为顺利进入美国辛苦背诵的细节。买此身份的人要熟读该书,并在抵美前销毁,以避免被移民局抓到证据遣返。据悉,1910年至1940年间来美国的56,113华人,主要是从旧金山天使口岸入境的,当时很多华人遭拘禁,有的被遣返。

因此,我馆所收藏到的这本《话记部》是非常珍贵的。该书共50页,以问答形式,全部用毛笔手书。内容除了备有祖孙几代、直系旁系、姓氏名谁的详细资料之外,还准备了更多更为详尽的问题,买纸者还必须详熟大家族的院落布局。

如附图所书:大七间 成旺屋 出外约十九年 妻在家 子亚飞 约十岁 共三人

……

大十二间 永情屋 出外 妻在家 未有子女 共二人

……

该书共列出十九间大屋,事无巨细。由此可见,祖父辈当年为入美,要做到熟背本书,避免遭拒,实属不易。

马  越, 馆藏部副主任

1.31.10

Filed under: Collections, MOCA, , , ,

3 Responses

  1. DN says:

    what an informative post!

  2. Monica says:

    I was very excited to hear about the new MOCA opening in the NY Times last year and I couldn’t wait to visit. I stopped by this Chinese New Year and was extremely impressed with the collection. I wish I had known earlier how much information was housed here. I could spend the entire day reading everything on those walls.

  3. [...] My first post mentioned MOCA’s bachelor archives, which is MOCA’s first collection of archives from 31 years ago when we constructed our first site. It came from Chinatown’s bachelor apartments. [...]

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