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.

A Farewell from Beatrice Chen

Our dear Director of Education and Public Programs, Beatrice Chen, had her final day at the Museum yesterday. While we will miss her, we’re thrilled for her next step. With Beatrice’s permission, we’ve reprinted her farewell letter so that all of our friends and fans can read her words. Please join us in wishing her well!

Dear Extended Family, Friends & Guardian Angels of MOCA:

Happy Year of the Dragon!

On February 13, I embark on a new adventure at The New York Public Library. As the Manager of Teaching & Learning, I will be working with the 86 branch libraries and four research libraries to help make NYPL’s collections and exhibitions accessible to K-12 students and teachers as a learning and teaching resource. Even though I consider myself a MOCA lifer, it was an offer that I simply couldn’t pass up.

It has been an amazing eight year journey with MOCA, filled with many rewarding moments, even amidst the considerable challenges of a growing institution taking a big leap. MOCA was introduced to me by an Urban Planning professor as an innovative organization at the nexus of culture and community/economic development. At that time, it was one of the few cultural organizations in the city that allowed me to integrate my interests in museum education, urban planning and history. Since then, many cultural organizations across the nation have adopted this interdisciplinary approach to better serve their communities. I leave MOCA believing that the same commitment to innovative museum practices and relevance to community still grounds its work, and inspires its trajectory as an ever evolving institution with national impact.

I feel blessed for this once in a career-lifetime opportunity to be part of a phenomenal team that implemented MOCA’s expansion from the initial planning stages in 2004 to the opening of our expanded space in 2009, and to seeing our current space–the beautiful galleries at 215 Centre as well as the newly reorganized archives at 70 Mulberry–activated with history, art, culture and critical conversations about identity.

I am forever grateful for the privilege of collaborating with and learning from so many incredible people. Over the years, I have drawn much inspiration from your dedication to your craft and your passion for your cause. Thank you for sharing your insight, expertise and yourself with MOCA, and for taking that leap of faith to invest in its enduring legacy.

I look forward to crossing paths with you soon, perhaps on an NYPL, Asian American or Chinatown project.

With gratitude,
Beatrice

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A Reaction to MOCA’s screening of “Vincent Who?”

On Friday, March 18th, MOCA hosted a sold-out screening of the documentary Vincent Who? alongside the Organization of Chinese Americans-NY Chapter. One of our educators, Ryan Wong, sent us a reactionary guest post.

 

“Vincent Who?”: A Generational Reflection

In the thirty years since the brutal murder of Vincent Chin, a new generation of Asian Americans has come of age. Vincent was twenty-seven when he was killed, and many of the activists who campaigned to bring justice to his killers were as young. Those of us born since 1982 know a different world from his: our lives never overlapped, I only know his story secondhand. The opening scenes of the documentary “Vincent Who?” screened at MOCA last week show that the majority of my peers have forgotten or never known of Vincent Chin.

But by the end of the film the gravity of the killing pulls us out of the narrowness of our years. Our age makes visceral the brutality of Chin’s murder: like us, he was guilty of nothing but being young and Asian in America.

The ignorance and anger that climaxed in Vincent’s killing has manifested itself again today, from fear of the ascendancy of Asian countries to hostility towards immigrants to continued stereotyping in the media. I have yet to meet someone growing up Asian-American who has not been cast as a foreigner – molded into one of the several types that have defined perceptions of us for hundreds of years. In a nation of immigrants, Vincent Chin’s story is one that should resonate with everyone, regardless of ethnicity, as we decide how to live as a global society.

The feeling of vulnerability left by the murder became the strength of a civil rights movement thirty years ago. As seen in the documentary, imperative to act has not diminished on those born since. As Curtis Chin, the director, asserted in his follow-up to the film, whether or not we are activists in the sense of thirty years ago, it falls on our generation to form new and creative spaces in this society.

Asian America has never been so diverse in goals and experience, so assertive of its right to not only live but create an identity here. We identify and unify as Asian-American not to gloss over that diversity, but to form solidity in numbers. Vincent’s killers elided his Chinese ethnicity into their perpections of Japanese and Asians in general; our unity is, at its core, a tactic of survival.

The clarity of the violence wrought on one man and his family echoes still; the campaign for justice it ignited helped give Asian America a voice. We should use it.

 

Vincent Who?

Filed under: Education, MOCA, Public Programs, , , ,

A Personal Story of the Impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

(This blog entry was inspired by a kickoff event for the 1882 Project I attended a few weeks ago.)

A Personal Story of the Impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

What’s in a name?

I’ve considered this question from time to time ever since I learned that my American last name was different, in spelling and meaning, from my Chinese last name. As a child growing up, there was always an assumption that my father’s last name was changed on Ellis Island. The running folklore in our family was “ Oh, the officials messed up the spelling, so that’ s why our last name became Lew instead of Lee – Lew/Lee, it’s the same thing.”

But was it really?

As I dug deeper into my family history, I learned that LEW had a unique origin: it was a name that originated in San Francisco after the earthquake of 1906 and subsequent fire that razed municipal buildings housing city records. This major catastrophe gave rise to the phenomenon of paper identities, whereby many Chinese immigrants falsely claimed American citizenship during the exclusion era, when Chinese laborers were prevented from immigrating to the US, and people of Chinese descent were prohibited from becoming naturalized citizens. My great aunt’s father had made such a claim to American citizenship on the basis of the 14th amendment and later declared that he gave birth to a son in Toisan, China during the 1930s – an identity that my father would eventually assume for the rest of his life.

Though my father immigrated to the US in 1951, eight years after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was symbolically repealed, the odds against his immigration remained immense because of a restrictive quota of 105 immigrants of Chinese descent that were allowed into the US each year. Furthermore, my father had to come to the US before the end of 1951 because, according to his paper identity, he was going to turn 16 by mid-December, and the law required him to enter the US before his 16th birthday. Had he turned 16 before entering the US, he would no longer have been eligible for sponsorship by his family. When he arrived in NYC, he was taken to Ellis Island and detained for two months before being reunited with his actual parents and older brother (who had made their own immigration arrangements) in New York City’s Chinatown.

My last name is one among the variety of names that comprise the Lee family tree. Some family members were able to retain the Lee name, while others took on other names to circumvent social, political, and racial barriers to immigration. These anomalies in the Lee family tree are intertwined with stories like my father’s, obstacles certain family members had to overcome to gain access to a new way of life during a time when people from other countries were freely welcomed into the US. My last name Lew is as much a descendant of the first race based exclusion act ever passed by the US federal government as it is a branch of the Lee family tree.

Karen L Lew

Associate Director of Education

MOCA

For more information about 1882 Project, please see: http://www.1882project.org

For an abridged version of my father’s oral history about his experiences on Ellis Island see following link: http://www.nps.gov/npnh/forteachers/ellis-island-oral-histories.htm

Filed under: Education, MOCA, , , , ,

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