MoCA Blog Guest Post by K. Ian Shin
For the last nine months, a team of interns has been working diligently within the archives of the Museum of Chinese in America (MoCA) on a veritable treasure trove of periodicals produced by and for the Chinese American community. The sheer size of the collection is daunting, but also one of its most exciting features: MoCA holds a total of 67 boxes, filled variously with newspapers, magazines, and other publications such as pamphlets, flyers, and calendars. So far, the interns have collectively inventoried and accessioned about 3,500 issues, and there is still much more to do! In this blog post, we would like to introduce you to this impressive collection and to some of its highlights.
What is most immediately striking about MoCA’s periodicals collection is its diversity: the newspapers, magazines, and other publications showcase the multiple voices in the Chinese American community. Chinese American high school and university students were among the most surprisingly prolific writers and publishers: MoCA holds publications by student organizations from Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, Queens College, SUNY Stony Brook, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Yale. Many of these trace the contours of the student activism in the 1960s and 1970s that, riding the wave of the civil rights movement, established Asian Americans as a political and social force in the United States. Their staple-bound, sometimes handwritten materials are completely unlike the glossy and glamorous lifestyle magazines of the 1980s and 1990s such as Rice, AsiAm, and Transpacific, which heralded the arrival of mainstream, well-heeled Asian American consumers and their taste for American fashion, music, and movies. In between these two ends of the spectrum are publications like the news-and-culture magazine Chinese American Forum, of which MoCA holds roughly two decades dating back to the 1980s. Chinese American Forum shows a community with feet planted firmly in both the old and the new: one article might expound on the intricacies of Confucian philosophy while another in the same issue celebrates the election of S.B. Woo as Delaware’s lieutenant governor in 1985. Taken together, these publications form a complex mosaic that tells the story of the Chinese journey to and in America.
While most of the periodicals in the collection touch on the traditional centers of Chinese American life in New York and California, a few of the more distinctive items give a sense of not only how widely the Chinese migrated around the world but also how interconnected this diaspora was. In MoCA’s collection, publications such as the annual journals and programs of the chambers of commerce, the Chinese American Restaurant Association of Greater New York, and the Asian/Pacific American Heritage Festival reveal both the richness and the evolution of social and cultural life in Chinatowns in New York City and San Francisco. Chinese settlement in other areas in the Americas and the world is well-documented within MoCA’s collection as well. For example, MoCA holds almost four decades of Chinatown News, a weekly news-magazine published in Vancouver, Canada. Interestingly, at least half of the cover stories of this magazine are devoted to one Chinese beauty pageant or another, some in Canada but many more from communities throughout the United States. The publication that has traveled perhaps the farthest to come to MoCA hails from South Africa: in the last days of the country’s racist apartheid regime, the September 27, 1990 issue of the Transvaal Chinese Association newsletter reminds us that the Chinese, too, suffered discrimination and violence — “intense, directionless and senseless” — and hoped to be “part of the New South Africa.”
From community hospitals in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, to Asian Americans living with HIV/AIDS, to the “art and science “ of Chinese cooking: MoCA’s publications collection truly reflects the motto of the New York Times — “All the news that’s fit to print” — and then some. The MoCA interns who have been laboring on this project are Nicole Kozlowski, Ian Shin, and Chris Yang. In painstakingly inventorying and scanning each issue into the museum’s archival database, we hope that future researchers will be able to easily access and take advantage of the extensive Chinese and Asian American print culture in the research library at the Museum of Chinese in America.