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: “Father, please work hard.”

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.

Although President Roosevelt signed a law to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, a large scale Chinese immigration did not occur again until the enactment of the Immigration Act in 1965. Crowds and crowds of Manhattan Chinese immigrants took over the apartments of later generation Chinese immigrants, who came to New York in the beginning of the 20th century and worked in the laundry business. These apartments are known as the Bachelor Apartments, and are the extraordinary product of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

In the middle of the 19th century, Chinese men were attracted to America’s west coast to construct railroads; however, due to the increasing arrival of miners, Chinese immigrants turned to the laundry business. They washed the miners’ clothes that were caked solid with dirt. Chinese immigrants began moving to the east coast in the early 20th century, and the laundry trade became their main business in the east. The end of the 19th century brought the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which forbade Chinese immigrants from naturalization, multi-racial marriages, etc. This strongly deprived Chinese immigrant men in America the possibility of marriage. As a result, this created the Bachelor Apartments in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

By the end of the end of the seventies, the Chinese population in America nearly doubled reaching about one million. Twenty percent of the Chinese population was living in New York. Regrettably, there has been no official record of this community’s history. During China’s simultaneous rapid development and change, this history has also become extremely important.

As the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” New York Chinatown History Project, which is the predecessor to the Museum of Chinese in America, was the start of a roadside cultural and historical institution that was established by former executive director Charles Lai and New York University professor Jack Tchen in 1980. At the time, Lai and Tchen discovered that when new immigrants moved into the empty apartments of previous tenants and new businesses replaced old ones, the streets were then filled with various Chinese individual’s fascinating historical remnants. There were business signs, letters wives wrote to their husbands from far distances in China, WWII soldier uniforms, as well as complete bundles of Chinese newspapers. These precious historical remains that Lai and Tchen collected became MOCA’s first archive.

Among these files, there is a letter that a son wrote to his father seen in the picture of the mentioned letter:

We received the 5000 yuan father sent home. It was pretty much all used to repay the debt, and there isn’t much money left over. However, expenses at home are extremely great; supplies are expensive, the price of rice has gone up, and next year another sister is starting school. All together 3 sisters are in school and expenses will increase. We’ve already sold our gold and jewelry in order to relieve our desperate situation. Father, please work hard to send money home.

This letter was written on December 15, 1943 of the lunar calendar, the same year that the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. It was also when the Chinese Exclusion Act had the longest affect. At the time, although fathers in America were living apart from their family, they still bore the responsibility of raising their families far away in China.

Yue Ma
Associate Director of Collections

Letter from Son to Father

美国华人博物馆馆藏

上篇中提到美国华人博物馆的一批光棍档案,这是美国华人博物馆31年前建馆时收藏的第一批档案,来自于唐人街的光棍公寓。

虽然罗斯福总统于1943年签法废除排华法案,但大规模华人移民是直到1965年颁布了移民改革法之后才再次出现的。一批批落户曼哈顿的华人新移民接管了20世纪初期来到纽约并在这个城市从事洗衣行业的华裔移民及后代所居住的公寓。这些公寓号称光棍公寓,是排华法的特别产物。

十九世纪中期,中国男子被招来美国西海岸修建铁路,但是随着越来越多的淘金矿工的到来,华裔转向洗衣业,清洗矿工们换下的那些硬得能够立起来的粘稠状衣服。到二十世纪了早期,华裔开始搬来东海岸,洗衣业成了他们在东部的主营业务。19世界末期开始实施的排华法禁止华人归化入籍,并禁止与华人与外族通婚等,这几乎剥夺了在美华人男子娶妻成家的机会,于是产生料曼哈顿唐人街的光棍公寓。

到了七十年代末期,在美国的华人人口数达到了几乎一百万,翻了将近一番。他们当中百分之二十生活在纽约市。遗憾的是,对于这个社区的历史去没有正式的记载。在中国迅速发展变化的同时,这个历史也变得格外重要。

俗话说一个人废弃的东西可能会成为另一个人的宝贝,纽约华埠历史研究会,也就是美国华人博物馆的前身,就是这样一个始于路边的历史文化机构,由美国华人博物馆原执行总监黎重旺及纽约大学教授陈国维先生于1980年创建。当时,黎先生和陈先生注意到:当新移民搬进已故去老租客空下来的公寓,新商户取代老商户的时候,路边便堆满了各种各样满载华人历史遗迹的有趣的物品,有商户的招牌,被远隔在中国的妻子写给丈夫的信,二战士兵服,以及成捆的中文报纸。这些珍贵的历史遗迹被黎先生和陈先生收藏起来,成为美国华人博物馆的第一批档案。

在这批档案中,有这样一封儿子写给父亲的信,见附图,信中提到:

家中收到父亲寄来的五千元,差不多都用来偿换债务了,余下的钱已不多。但是,家里费用非常之大,商品昂贵,米价上涨,明年又多个姊妹入学,一共3个姊妹读书,费用将加重。我们已变卖了金器、首饰以解燃眉之急。请父亲勤些寄钱回家。

这封信写于1943年农历12月15日,排华法废除的同年,也是排华法影响最长的时刻。当时身在美国的父亲虽然不能与家人生活在一起,却仍然肩负抚养远在中国的全家的责任。

马越
馆藏部副主任

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