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.

Don’t Believe the Hype

-A personal view on Linsanity

Linsanity’s 2nd act is about to begin as his Houston Rockets prepare to face the Detroit Pistons on October 31 to open the NBA season. Jeremy Lin’s presence on the new GQ cover (he is the first Asian-American to do so in the magazine’s existence) is evidence that all the hoopla surrounding Lin clearly hasn’t dissipated from New York with his departure.  After reading the article I began to consider my own relationship to basketball as a Chinese American.

It might be surprising for you to read that I have mixed-feelings about Lin.  As a Chinese-American basketball player and coach, it was exciting to see another Asian American succeed at the highest level.  On the other hand, as an objective basketball observer his weaknesses stood out: the inability to dribble hard left, over-handling the ball, and jumping before he passes. He struggled to minimize his turnovers and was careless the ball– cardinal sins for a point guard whose primary job is to control the tempo of the game and be an extension of the coach.  However, one quote from Lin in the article struck me, and in it I found a way to relate to him as a basketball player.  In response to the idea that race played a significant role in his being overlooked by NBA teams:

“If I can be honest, yes. It’s not even close to the only reason, but it was definitely part of the reason…There’s a lot of perceptions and stereotypes of Asian-Americans that are out there today, and the fact that I’m Asian-American makes it harder to believe, even crazier, more unexpected,” he says. “I’m going to have to play well for a longer period of time for certain people to believe it, because I’m Asian. And that’s just the reality of it.”

I can relate to Jeremy Lin feeling pressure to play better for longer in order to break the perceptions and stereotypes he faces in the NBA.  I competed on Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teams (NY Gauchos, NY Pride) that traveled and competed nationally. One year during try-outs with Gauchos, when teams were formed by the coaches, my new teammates looked at me with exasperation—to them I was dead weight because I was Chinese.  They didn’t pass me the ball and I became frustrated.  On one possession, determined to show my abilities, I hustled and grabbed a long rebound, ignored my teammates frantic instructions and passed it forward to a teammate who scored an easy lay-up.  My coach blew the whistle, and yelled at my squad:  “He is the point guard, give him the ball! Why did it take you idiots so long to notice that?!” That it took my coach’s intervention for them to consider passing me the ball is telling.

Another time, during my first practice with the Gauchos a teammate very seriously asked me, “Do you really eat egg-rolls for dinner every day?”  I was taken aback and confused that he believed all Chinese people owned restaurants and ate egg-rolls every day.  With Lin’s successes, would my former teammate–now playing in the NBA– have the same attitudes towards Lin as he did towards me when we were younger?

In 2005 I was recruited to play in Bill Chan’s Queens-based USAB Warriors team which began my association with the network of Chinese and Asian American basketball tournaments and teams.  Over the years, we won three national titles together. I recently won two national titles as a coach with USAB.  Throughout my time with USAB, every team doubted us, took us lightly, and looked down on us.

The GQ article prompted a reflection of what has Lin achieved. I am proud and excited, but also skeptical that he can match last season’s production. I also understand that the larger unanswered questions about Lin’s emergence are about perceptions of Asian-Americans. In essence, what is Jeremy Lin’s broad impact on society? I’m looking forward to November 9, 2012 when The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) hosts a panel discussion called ROCKET MAN: The Future of Jeremy Lin with Devin Gordon (GQ) and Will Leitch (New York Magazine), the editor and writer behind the history-making Jeremy Lin feature in November’s GQ.

Daniel Ng is currently the Curatorial Intern at MOCA and is a Master’s student at New York University in the program in Museum Studies.  He is one of the coaches for the USAB Warriors in Queens, NY, continues to compete in basketball leagues, and is a die-hard NY Knicks fan.

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MOCA Monday: Music at MOCA Follow Up

Last Friday’s MOCAMIX was an awesome evening. Many thanks to Min Xiao Fen and Christopher Yahng for kicking off this fantastic new series! (Interested in attending MOCA programs? Check out our website and join our mailing list!)

Min Xiao Fen and Christopher Yahng perform at MOCAMIX July 13, 2012. (Photo credit: Peter Fink)

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MOCA Monday: Music at MOCA, Past and Present

The Museum of Chinese in America maintains an extensive archive and collection of Chinese American artifacts and oral histories. MOCA Mondays will briefly highlight one image or item from the collection. For more information, visit our website.

We loved this old Basement Jazz flyer, especially in light of our upcoming inaugural MOCAMIX concert, featuring Christopher Yahng Jazz Trio and Master Pipa Player Min Xiao-Fen. We hope to see you there!

The flyer for the upcoming MOCAMIX. RSVP now!

A basement workshop flyer circa 1977.

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MOCA Monday: BAL-LIN

The Museum of Chinese in America maintains an extensive archive and collection of Chinese American artifacts and oral histories. MOCA Mondays will briefly highlight one image or item from the collection. For more information, visit our website.

Members of the Chinese Athletic Club pose for a team photo.

In honor of tonight’s program BAL-LIN: Beer and Basketball at MOCA, we present this photo of some old-school players from our collection. Interested in future MOCA events? Check out our website! We’ve got five more basketball game nights scheduled in March and April.

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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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“Successful future as bright and beautiful as tapestry”

If you were to read the writing on the walls, you’d know what’s on their minds: “read ten thousand books and walk ten thousand miles to seek knowledge”; “to get promotion continuously/to attain eminence step by step”; “successful future as bright and beautiful as tapestry”—these are some of the words chosen by the young artists to display in this, the second annual Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC and the Asian Mentoring Committee’s Fundraiser. As with last year’s event the “Littles” (mentees involved in the program) created unique pieces of art under the guidance of their “Bigs” (program mentors.) This year, acclaimed author and artist Mingmei Yip taught calligraphy workshops to the pairs, instructing the Littles in the art of Chinese brushwork. To create their final piece, each Little wrote out a traditional Chinese proverb that held personal meaning. Their work was then framed and installed in the classroom of the Museum of Chinese in America. (On display through summer 2011.)

This artwork, and the efforts of BBBS of NYC and the AMC, was celebrated with a fundraiser on May 18 at MOCA. Hector Batista, Executive Director of BBBS of NYC, welcomed guests to kick-off the evening. Friends and fans mingled while enjoying food and drink. Traditional music performed by Wukun Li (Pipa), Tingting Chen (Gu Zheng) and Wen Li (Dulcimer) entertained guests, and inspiring speaker Cambao De Duong shared his life experiences.  The evening, like the proverbs promised, was a great success. We sincerely thank all of the dedicated volunteers who gave their time, as well as sponsors and partners including Fay Da Bakery, Filled with Sweets Desserts, Khao Tip Restaurant, Paleewong Trading Co., PepsiMax, Red Egg, and Taiwan Beer.

On Saturday, May 21 the Museum again welcomed Bigs, Littles and their families to an Artists’ Reception. Through their interactions, we saw first-hand how a successful one-to-one mentorship positively affects the lives surrounding our matches, as parents and siblings celebrated alongside the proud artists. This event included tasty treats from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, as well as gift bags including prizes from ChinaSprout, L’Oreal, and McDonalds.

Artist Littles pose with their pieces

The Museum of Chinese in America was proud to host both events, to witness the growth of previous participants and welcome new matches, and to once again reach out to the adult community of BBBS and AMC supporters as well as the youth and families matched through BBBS. We truly believe that the Littles will have a successful future through hard work, dedication and the support of families, friends and mentors and we look forward to future opportunities to support AMC’s efforts in “Inspiring a Future, Today!”

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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?

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MOCA Author Talks

Tomorrow we’re hosting another free and fantastic Author Talk event with Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, who will discuss her book, A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family. A book-signing will follow.

An excerpt from the book:

My paternal grandmother, whom I called Tanglin Ah-Ma because she once lived in the Tanglin neighborhood of Singapore, was a true legend in the kitchen…While we didn’t have the words to communicate, Tanglin Ah-Ma spoke eloquently to me, to her family, by feeding us all…The crowning moment for my Tanglin Ah-Ma, however, was Chinese New Year, a time of great feasting in Singapore when people devote entire days to hopping from house to house, catching up with friends and relatives while stuffing themselves with platters of noodles, candy and above all, cookies.

About the Author:

Cheryl Tan is a New York-based writer who has covered fashion, retail, and home design (and written the occasional food story) for the Wall Street Journal. Before that she was the senior fashion writer for InStyle magazine and senior arts, entertainment, and fashion writer for the Baltimore Sun. Born and raised in Singapore, she crossed the ocean for college in the U.S. after realizing that a) she wanted to be a journalist and b) if she was going to be as mouthy in her work as she was in real life, she’d better not do it in Singapore.

We’ve hosted other successful author talks in the past. Last October, Henry Chang came to MOCA to talk about Red Jade, the third book of his Chinatown Trilogy.

Tomorrow’s event is free and open to the public, courtesy of Target. RSVP to education at mocanyc dot org.

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Chinatown Flavors

In anticipation of tonight’s screening of Take Out with take-out at MOCA came an inevitable revisit to the foods of Chinatown.  One institution of Chinatown cuisine stood out in particular: Mei Lai Wah Coffeehouse.

Coffeehouses in Chinatown were the earliest form of eateries frequented by the Chinese in New York. Much like the taverns and coffeehouses in Europe before the Printing Revolution, these Chinatown coffeehouses served as gathering places for the community to catch up on the latest news. The first wave of Chinese immigrants, mostly from Toisan in Canton (Guangdong) Province, sought out jobs, debated politics and traded gossip in these hole-in-the-wall joints over roast pork buns and coffee or tea.

Mei Lai Wah Coffeehouse, opened in 1968 by two Toisanese men, is one of the old school coffeehouses that is still around. Several years ago, MOCA member Mel Young shared his childhood memories of Mei Lai Wah with the Museum:

“This old-style tea parlor/coffeehouse has been around [for decades]. The owners have never changed their winning formula − cheap, delicious pastries, dim sum (nothing fancy, but all freshly steamed), and strong, old-fashioned coffee. There is always a mob of people getting take-out at the counter.

The tables and counter stools look like they have seen much wear over the decades. The Formica tabletops are well-patinated and the stools have been “reupholstered” with vinyl tablecloth material strapped down with metal wire. This place has a distinctly masculine feeling to it; you won’t see many women eating here on their own. There always used to be a haze of cigarette smoke in there until smoking in restaurants was banned.

Mei Lai Wah is famous for their egg custard tarts. The crust is light, slightly oily and deliciously flaky, setting them apart from the characterless ones sold at some of the modern Chinese bakeries. They were a nice treat after Chinese school on Sundays.”

That well-worn atmosphere is no more, though the beloved recipes still exist. In 2008 the original owners retired and Mei Lai Wah underwent a facelift.  It is now Mei Li Wah Bakery, a brightly lit establishment with baked goods lined up along wooden shelves served by men and women in orange polo shirts. Happily, you can still find their signature cha-siu roast pork buns (baked sweet dough filled with barbequed roast pork) and egg tarts (egg custard in a pastry shell.)

Both dishes are distinctly Cantonese. In fact, when people referred to Chinese food before the 1980s, they were really talking about Cantonese food. The cuisine from other parts of China had yet to make its way to the American public. That has changed over the past few decades, and today’s New York has traditional foods and flavors from all over China.

Are you curious about the emergence of Chinese regional cuisines in America’s dining culture? Take MOCA’s walking tour From Coffehouses to Banquet Halls on Saturday, December 18 at 1pm. For tickets and more info click here.

Beatrice Chen
Director of Education and Public Programs

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Guest Post: Betty Ming Liu Dishes on Dumplings

Note: this post was originally written by the author on her blog at bettymingliu.com and is used here with her permission.

Last night’s sold-out talk-&-tasting event at the Museum of Chinese in America was a hit. We had the best time because both the dialogue and the dumplings were totally delicious!

The 6-8 p.m. food fest began with an hour-long panel discussion. Afterwards, about 100 guests wandered through MoCA’s new building, sampling 10 different types of dumplings catered from six NYC restaurants.

Thank you, Rachel!

Dumpling Night was sponsored by Rachel Sha of Prudential Douglas Elliman. We became pals years ago, when we were both MoCA trustees. For months, she searched the city for the best goodies to feed us. Her choices were nuanced, varied and elegant. I’ve got links below to all the places she ordered from — and more.

(left to right) Eddie Huang, Chris Cheung, Andy Coe, Kian Lam Kho — and I moderated!

The dumpling panel

Our four terrific speakers were:

  • Kian Lam Kho, 55, private chef and blogger (“Red Cook: Adventures from a Chinese Home Kitchen”). He teaches an in-depth Chinese dumpling-making class at the Institute of Culinary Education.
  • Andrew Coe, 51, author of “Chop Suey,” a scholarly book that traces the history of America’s love affair with Chinese food, which began in 1784.
  • Brooklyn-born chef Chris Cheung, 40, China 1 executive chef who is about to open a new midtown spot called Walle. Check out all his YouTube videos. The crowd really dug his heavy, Bensonhurst accent.
  • Chef Eddie Huang, 28, bad boy from Baohaus who specializes in Taiwanese street food with a young American twist. Xiao Ye is his new eatery. Check out the blog post that proved his NYC foodie street cred.

Briefly, our key talking points:

  • The Chinese have been eating and making dumplings for at least 2,000 years.
  • Northern China’s hearty, thick-skinned, meat-filled dumplings (eg, pot stickers) are traditionally viewed as peasant food.
  • The rich folks in Southern China specialize in delicate, thin-skinned dumplings with fancy fillings (eg, dim sum, soup dumplings).
  • The American palate for these bite-sized bits of hand-made love is evolving. New creations are popping up all the time.
It was a food fest

Where to eat the best dumplings

We dined on delights from restaurants in Manhattan (China 1Red EggShanghai Cafe, Xiao Ye); Brooklyn (East Harbor Seafood Palace) and Queens (Szechuan Gourmet).

During the panel’s Q&A with the audience, someone asked Eddie where he goes when he needs a fix. His answer: Nan Xiang Dumpling House in Flushing. Rachel said that it’s named for a town on the outskirts of Shanghai where the soup dumpling was invented. She and her husband tried the place on their way home — and loved it.

Susan Glauberman LaRosa and Paul LaRosa

Our press coverage

Really happy to share the night with my personal friends who included: Arthur Schwartz (foodmaven.com), Max Gross (New York Post), David Leung (Sing Tao Daily), married bloggers Susan Glauberman LaRosa (aCakeBakesinBrooklyn.com) and Paul LaRosa (PaulLaRosa.com), and Madeline Muldoon (AlwaysHungryNY.com).

We also received a nice write-up on DNAinfo.com. Being back at MoCA to moderate also gave me a chance to catch up with new museum director Alice Mong and programs chief Beatrice Chen. It’s been a while!

Special thanks to two very special people

Wendy specializes in fine, beaded jewelry
Doesn’t her jewelry look great on me?

Jewelry designer Wendy Lin provided gorgeous earrings and bracelets for my daughter and I to wear. Wendy shows her work at top craft fairs throughout the Northeast. There’s also beautiful stuff featured on her website.

Before becoming an artist, my dear friend Wendy was a Newsday reporter. She is inspiring proof that if you keep following your dreams, there is life after journalism.

And hey — my daughter took the pictures you’re viewing! Up until now, I’ve been referring to her on the blog as “The Princess” to protect her privacy. But we talked about that last night. She deserves credit for her work…

All photos by: Gabrielle Ebron.

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