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.

September 11th Reflections

Our Associate Director of Education, Karen Lew, shares some thoughts on the ten-year anniversary of September 11th.

As with many of us during this time, I have been reflecting on the impact of September 11th as the tenth anniversary approaches.

In the days and weeks following September 11th, I can remember thinking that there were two worlds in Lower Manhattan: the one above Canal Street and the one south of it.  Everything south of Canal Street had been isolated from the rest of the city and relegated to the realm of news broadcasts. Lower Manhattan had become more of a crime scene than a community, and everyone was unsure about its future. Week after week, a new article about the tenuous economy of Manhattan’s Chinatown appeared in the New York Times. Life below Canal Street was militarized; the National Guard were stationed at major intersections throughout, and one needed photo identification to travel within a span of 3 – 4 blocks. The streets were uncannily empty. Storefronts were closed, and the lingering smell of burning metals, plastics, and other substances I could not even identify created a miasmic field in the neighborhood. I will never forget this burning, stinging vapor that lasted well into December.

In response, my boyfriend at the time (now my husband) and I created a button that embodied what we felt was the most constructive and appropriate response to the violent disaster. On its face was the Chinese character for unity with a graphic that represented the neighborhood, the 10013 zip code, and the words “Reflect, Rebuild, Revive”–a call to literally rise out of the ashes. We encouraged our friends and acquaintances to support Chinatown and the rest of the Lower Manhattan and created an e-mail account where people could write to share their experiences as they coped with the fallout the day of the attack. The image of that button was deposited into the See link:

September 11, 2001 made me fight for my neighborhood.  I didn’t want to see it die. Though at the time I was already involved with nonprofit work focused in other communities around NYC, I decided to find a job serving the very community I grew up in. Six months later, I serendipitously discovered an opportunity that combined my interests in youth and community development when a new after school program was created in the Chinatown/Lower East Side area in response to September 11th to support children and their families living in proximity to the World Trade Center.

Ten years later still in the fight for my city, and my community.

For a listing of programs at MOCA commemorating the ten-year anniversary, please see link:

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