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.

Guest Post: We Are New York with MOCA Member Stacy Zhao

Sunday morning at MOCA.  A time typically quiet at the museum — but last Sunday, April 18, over 30 Chinese immigrants eagerly gathered at 10am to begin their first We Are New York English conversation group.  We Are NY is an Emmy-winning new TV series from the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education and CUNY  created to help immigrants learn practical English, and the conversation groups are a city-wide initiative to get people together to watch the series and practice speaking with the help of volunteer facilitators.

I had the pleasure of facilitating the first conversation group at MOCA along with another MOCA member, Henry Lui, and we’ll do so once a week for the next nine weeks.  Both first time volunteers with We Are NY, we had no idea what to expect.  At training sessions we’d been told that the average size of a group would be 10-15 people — totally manageable for two facilitators.  Imagine our surprise when we opened the doors to find more than double that number of participants waiting in the museum lobby!

The participants in our group came from all corners of New York City: some walked a few blocks to get to MOCA, others came from the outer boroughs by subway, bus and ferry.  They were husband-and-wife pairs, working professionals, restaurant workers, retired grandparents, newly arrived and decade-long New Yorkers.  Everyone was there with the same goal — to practice English — and for some participants, the three hours at MOCA are the only chance they have to do so.

We got off to a slow start as people were not used to the conversation group format (I think everyone was expecting Henry and me to teach English with grammar lessons and the like), but eventually they grew a little more comfortable talking to each other in pairs or groups of three. I think it will take a few weeks for every participant to be completely comfortable speaking in a group setting, but even by the end of the first session I could see that there was progress made.

Most of the participants told me at the end of the session that they would return next Sunday.  I’ll be there too, with another episode of We Are NY for us to watch and new conversations for us to have.

Stacy Zhao
MOCA and Young Professionals Program Member

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Entrepreneurs kick off the Experience + Exchange Series at MOCA!

Did you miss out on MOCA’s inaugural Experience + Exchange: A Conversation Between Entrepreneurs presented by the MOCA’s Young Professionals Program (YP)?

E+E (side note: I’m a fan of acronyms and alliteration) was conceived as the anti-traditional panel. The goal:  bring together two individuals (an established professional and an emerging talent) in a common field and ask them to share their stories and journeys with each other and with the audience. We hope to connect young Chinese Americans and Asian American professionals through meaningful conversations (big emphasis on conversation) between all participants.

We were extremely fortunate to jumpstart our E+E series with “Entrepreneurship” and invited Danielle Chang, Founder of LUCKYRICE and Shawn Liu, Co-Founder, Harvest to join us for the evening. Daniel Blank, YP member and an entrepreneur himself, served as the event facilitator for the evening (shout out to Daniel and his Bureau Blank crew for helping brand the E+E event!).

Though both Danielle’s and Shawn’s businesses are similar (Danielle’s LUCYRICE is preparing to launch its digital initiatives as an integrated media+events company with a focus on Asian food and culinary culture; Shawn’s company developed Harvest, a web-based software for small businesses), it was interesting to hear their respective anecdotes. Sometimes funny—Shawn had shared his prior experience as an artist’s assistant, and having to do everything for him, even laundry! And sometimes unexpected—Danielle comes from a family of entrepreneurs, and yet when her parents found out what she wanted to do, there were big sighs and “aiyahs” all around.

I really commend both speakers for their bravery to take the plunge to do something that they truly believe in, even when faced with obstacles (and sometimes having to start all over). However, there were some constant themes throughout the evening: creativity, spirit, and fearlessness are part of an entrepreneur’s DNA; one should take what they learned (failures and all) and come out with something better; and you should focus on the future instead of dwelling in the past.

There was an awesome turnout and great feedback–but you don’t need to hear it from me, check out the entire event right here: http://www.mocanyc.org/support_MOCA/membership/mocayp

Look out for more information on our next E+E event on May 19th on “Community Champions”—see you soon!

Want to see more events like this? Want to make your mark? Get involved! For more info on YP please email yp@mocanyc.org.

Jenny Wong
Development Manager

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A night with the “hi-def Yo-Yo Ma”

Hold On,
One Strong,
and you’ll never be alone,
Each day, Each Night,
We pray our dreams take flight,
Cuz I need you, and you need me,
And together we stand for unity.

So goes the hook of “The Forum”, a song off of Dana Leong’s latest album, Milk & Jade. The artist and his multi-talented collaborators celebrated the CD release at Symphony Space on Friday, March 5 with an audience filled with fans and friends. It was a night that rejoiced in unlikely unions, the chance for long-time listeners and first-time initiates to enjoy Leong and his unique blend of hip-hop, jazz, electronic and classical music. MOCA staff and Young Professionals were invited to attend the event (a great YP member perk!) and I felt lucky to join the crowd. Dana Leong in concert is unlike any other musician I have seen—he is incredibly inventive, weaving his personal history (classically-trained cellist and trombonist, of Chinese and Japanese descent) with his artistic influences (jazz and pop greats, local NYC MCs, film and fashion), to create a new kind of performance.  With a foot propped on his electric cello, he bobbed and moved, occasionally grabbing the mic to emphasize a lyric or reaching to hit his laptop to introduce a new electronic element to the sonic landscape. His biography includes a mention about his work with artists including Dafnis Prieto, Ryuichi Sakamoto, DJ Spooky, Wynton Marsalis, Yoko Ono and Kanye West, and I think this best describes him: if all those amazing and disparate artists got together and had a baby (just go with me on this one), it would be Dana Leong. He is more than one influence, he is more than one style, he is even more than one instrument (and somehow manages to play many at once.) He unites cultures and musical styles in a new way, and makes it wholly his own.

His guests that evening were equally talented.  Two artists performed live who are not on the album. Hagar Ben Ari rocked out on the bass for much of the evening, and added a wistful solo to the opening of “Opus One ‘Why I Cry’”, a hauntingly beautiful song about the tragedies of human life. It is rare that electric bass is played as a melodic (rather than strictly rhythmic) instrument in concert, and it made me wish for more of that. Jason Mills’ emphatic drums lent a fun energy to the evening, and it comes as no surprise that he is a former member of the touring show STOMP. Core Rhythm, the anchoring MC of the evening, is Leong’s most frequent collaborator on Milk & Jade projects, and their chemistry is apparent. It is a pleasure to watch fellow musicians enjoy each other’s work and processes, and these two clearly work well together. Core Rhythm’s lyrics are clever and deep at the same time, and while it can be tough to decipher those lyrics in a live show, the audience got a copy of the words in their programs, which helped quite a bit. They were joined by artists Johnny Voltik, Homeboy Sandman and MoeRoc, and my one complaint about the evening was that the sound made it difficult to understand their politically- and socially-aware lyrics. (This problem is solved on the CD, thankfully.) I also thoroughly enjoyed the popping and locking of dancer Tommy “Hypno” Chan, who did a fantastic and fun robot to a song that combined human and technological sounds for a truly modern performance. As a nod to his roots, Dana closed the show with a cover of “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, with his trombone taking the melody and original lyrics by Core Rhythm.  It is a testament to his training and his artistry that I had tears in my eyes; his trombone sounded like a human lament, and it made for a powerful end to the show.

It was an eye-opening, enjoyable evening, and I look forward to hearing more out of Dana Leong and his collaborators. MOCA and Dana plan to unite for a future event, so please stay tuned. You’ll be glad you did.

Milk & Jade is available on CD Baby. For more information, please visit danaleong.com.

Emily Chovanec
Visitor Services Manager

Filed under: MOCA, Public Programs, , ,

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