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.

Our Goal is Never Ending

As protesters marched down Lafayette yesterday afternoon, a call went around the office: “Occupy Wall Street is passing the Museum!” We grabbed cameras (and, thanks Steve Jobs, smartphones) and ran to our back door to watch as people took to the streets, marching peacefully, carrying signs and chanting in unison. Autumn has finally descended upon the city and there was a coolness in the air though I suspect it was more than that which gave me chills. It felt historic to be observing this civil action–though observing was all we did, despite the calls to join the march downtown. (In the Museum industry, we’re typically in the business of presenting and interpreting history, not making it.) So how do we look at Occupy Wall Street? What perspective can we offer from a historical vantage point?

A protest photograph from the MOCA archives is paired with a recent image by photographer Hai Zhang.

Photographer Hai Zhang, whose work will be included in our Spring 2012 exhibition “America Through A Chinese Lens,” has spent time with the occupiers, and his images shared here on our blog are striking in their timelessness. Forgetting for a moment that the hippie trappings of some of the protesters seem stuck in a time warp, the reason there is nothing new about these images is that we’ve seen these interactions play out across the national stage for decades. What he has captured is the enduring struggle between the people and the power as they seek equilibrium. As Zhang told us, “I had trouble [positioning] myself—one side is saying the protest is aimless… and the other side praises the protest as a truly revolutionary American Spring… I know neither side is completely true.” Rather than taking a decisive stand, he chose to simply document the events. We’ve juxtaposed his current images with photos from our collections of protesters marching; for representation, for equality, for peace. Protected under the First Amendment, generations of Americans have and continue to gather in the streets to be heard. But unlike marching for equality for those things we cannot change—race, gender, sexual orientation—today’s protesters are asking for us to confront the American creation myth. The promise that if you work hard you’ll succeed seems empty now as we watch our country struggle through a deep recession and record unemployment. Any sweeping change is hard-won and fraught with issue, but this seems particularly difficult. And where does this leave us? For younger generations, perhaps with a new perspective on civic involvement. New York often acts as a microcosm for the rest of the country—there is a sense that everyone looks to us, and responds in kind. It is thus especially fitting that these events have started here, and gained momentum across North America. What began as an amorphous and easily-dismissed movement has grown into a collective voice with a coherent purpose. As Zhang says, “this protest will not last forever, and probably will end with no clear victory, but it has forever changed our attitudes and raised awareness and hope.”

Generations of protesters (the image on the left is from the MOCA archives, the image on the right is courtesy of Hai Zhang.)

The idea of the 99% is not a new one. The country’s underprivileged classes have long argued that there is a great disparity between rich and poor, and even middle class and poor; it took the middle class to get poorer for most of us to sit up and notice. But low wages or no jobs? Academic excellence leading to little more than loan debt and disappointment? A feeling of being ignored or pandered to by our political leaders? These are the stories (and more) that we’ve collected and shared throughout our exhibition “With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America”. These images could be protesters in 1960s calling for peace, or as Zhang remembers, the Chinese who took to Tiananmen Square in the 1980s. Regardless of time, place and technology, activism relies upon the spectacle of the masses coming together for change. Thus photography makes an ideal agent for distributing the ideas and concepts of activism: it is made to be witnessed. When we look at these images, when we feel the marchers surge past us, when we hear their calls to action, we see our own history as Americans. A people unafraid to fight for what is right, to shake up a system or engage in the process of changing the world for the future. Our hope is that someday when we look back upon Occupy Wall Street, it is from a better, more perfect union.

Emily Chovanec Schappler
Visitor Services Manager

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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 911digitalarchive.org. See link: http://911digitalarchive.org/repository_object.php?object_id=33875

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: http://www.mocanyc.org/about/news/moca_announces_911_anniversary_program

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“All the News That’s Fit to Print”…And Then Some: the Publications Collection at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)

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.

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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

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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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MOCA Collections: “Father, please work hard.”

My first post mentioned MOCA’s bachelor archives, which is MOCA’s first collection of archives from 31 years ago when we constructed our first site. It came from Chinatown’s bachelor apartments.

Although President Roosevelt signed a law to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, a large scale Chinese immigration did not occur again until the enactment of the Immigration Act in 1965. Crowds and crowds of Manhattan Chinese immigrants took over the apartments of later generation Chinese immigrants, who came to New York in the beginning of the 20th century and worked in the laundry business. These apartments are known as the Bachelor Apartments, and are the extraordinary product of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

In the middle of the 19th century, Chinese men were attracted to America’s west coast to construct railroads; however, due to the increasing arrival of miners, Chinese immigrants turned to the laundry business. They washed the miners’ clothes that were caked solid with dirt. Chinese immigrants began moving to the east coast in the early 20th century, and the laundry trade became their main business in the east. The end of the 19th century brought the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which forbade Chinese immigrants from naturalization, multi-racial marriages, etc. This strongly deprived Chinese immigrant men in America the possibility of marriage. As a result, this created the Bachelor Apartments in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

By the end of the end of the seventies, the Chinese population in America nearly doubled reaching about one million. Twenty percent of the Chinese population was living in New York. Regrettably, there has been no official record of this community’s history. During China’s simultaneous rapid development and change, this history has also become extremely important.

As the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” New York Chinatown History Project, which is the predecessor to the Museum of Chinese in America, was the start of a roadside cultural and historical institution that was established by former executive director Charles Lai and New York University professor Jack Tchen in 1980. At the time, Lai and Tchen discovered that when new immigrants moved into the empty apartments of previous tenants and new businesses replaced old ones, the streets were then filled with various Chinese individual’s fascinating historical remnants. There were business signs, letters wives wrote to their husbands from far distances in China, WWII soldier uniforms, as well as complete bundles of Chinese newspapers. These precious historical remains that Lai and Tchen collected became MOCA’s first archive.

Among these files, there is a letter that a son wrote to his father seen in the picture of the mentioned letter:

We received the 5000 yuan father sent home. It was pretty much all used to repay the debt, and there isn’t much money left over. However, expenses at home are extremely great; supplies are expensive, the price of rice has gone up, and next year another sister is starting school. All together 3 sisters are in school and expenses will increase. We’ve already sold our gold and jewelry in order to relieve our desperate situation. Father, please work hard to send money home.

This letter was written on December 15, 1943 of the lunar calendar, the same year that the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. It was also when the Chinese Exclusion Act had the longest affect. At the time, although fathers in America were living apart from their family, they still bore the responsibility of raising their families far away in China.

Yue Ma
Associate Director of Collections

Letter from Son to Father

美国华人博物馆馆藏

上篇中提到美国华人博物馆的一批光棍档案,这是美国华人博物馆31年前建馆时收藏的第一批档案,来自于唐人街的光棍公寓。

虽然罗斯福总统于1943年签法废除排华法案,但大规模华人移民是直到1965年颁布了移民改革法之后才再次出现的。一批批落户曼哈顿的华人新移民接管了20世纪初期来到纽约并在这个城市从事洗衣行业的华裔移民及后代所居住的公寓。这些公寓号称光棍公寓,是排华法的特别产物。

十九世纪中期,中国男子被招来美国西海岸修建铁路,但是随着越来越多的淘金矿工的到来,华裔转向洗衣业,清洗矿工们换下的那些硬得能够立起来的粘稠状衣服。到二十世纪了早期,华裔开始搬来东海岸,洗衣业成了他们在东部的主营业务。19世界末期开始实施的排华法禁止华人归化入籍,并禁止与华人与外族通婚等,这几乎剥夺了在美华人男子娶妻成家的机会,于是产生料曼哈顿唐人街的光棍公寓。

到了七十年代末期,在美国的华人人口数达到了几乎一百万,翻了将近一番。他们当中百分之二十生活在纽约市。遗憾的是,对于这个社区的历史去没有正式的记载。在中国迅速发展变化的同时,这个历史也变得格外重要。

俗话说一个人废弃的东西可能会成为另一个人的宝贝,纽约华埠历史研究会,也就是美国华人博物馆的前身,就是这样一个始于路边的历史文化机构,由美国华人博物馆原执行总监黎重旺及纽约大学教授陈国维先生于1980年创建。当时,黎先生和陈先生注意到:当新移民搬进已故去老租客空下来的公寓,新商户取代老商户的时候,路边便堆满了各种各样满载华人历史遗迹的有趣的物品,有商户的招牌,被远隔在中国的妻子写给丈夫的信,二战士兵服,以及成捆的中文报纸。这些珍贵的历史遗迹被黎先生和陈先生收藏起来,成为美国华人博物馆的第一批档案。

在这批档案中,有这样一封儿子写给父亲的信,见附图,信中提到:

家中收到父亲寄来的五千元,差不多都用来偿换债务了,余下的钱已不多。但是,家里费用非常之大,商品昂贵,米价上涨,明年又多个姊妹入学,一共3个姊妹读书,费用将加重。我们已变卖了金器、首饰以解燃眉之急。请父亲勤些寄钱回家。

这封信写于1943年农历12月15日,排华法废除的同年,也是排华法影响最长的时刻。当时身在美国的父亲虽然不能与家人生活在一起,却仍然肩负抚养远在中国的全家的责任。

马越
馆藏部副主任

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MOCA and A Sense of Place

“To be at all to exist in any way – is to be somewhere, and
to be somewhere is to be in some kind of place.  Place is
as requisite as the air we breathe, the ground on which we
stand, the bodies we have. We are surrounded by places.
We walk over and through them. We live in places, relate
to others in them, die in them.

Nothing we do is unplaced.”
Edward S. Casey

When I reflect on my early childhood memories in school, I often think about the disconnect between my classroom experiences and my immediate surroundings. Though I grew up in a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan that is both diverse and rich in history, I often found that what I was learning in the classroom did not relate to my own life. Information was gleaned from textbooks and teachers rather than from my environment and experiences. For this very reason, I found school to be removed from my interests and always felt that I had two selves – one in school and one out-of-school. Furthermore, I felt that my experiences out-of-school were not as important as subject areas in school.

It was not until I started to run an after school program in my own community that I made the connection between that community and its impact on learning and teaching. At that point in my life I had traveled, lived, and worked in many different cities – both across the US and around the world.  By experiencing different places I became sensitive to my relationship with the surrounding environment. However, an underlying desire to return, understand, and work in the neighborhood I grew up in persisted.

MOCA symbolized the first place where my story belonged. Growing up, I always felt that American history was far away, long ago, and had nothing to do with my own experiences. It was not until I visited MOCA as an undergraduate student that I began to understand how my heritage and experiences fit within the larger context of American history and culture; I saw how history can be very personal, and yet universal in nature.

As an educator, it is my hope that students have a similar experience when they visit MOCA. Through examinations of artifacts, photographs, oral histories and the built environment, students learn about the successive waves of Chinese immigrants, their motivations for coming, and how they shaped American society. Instead of textbooks, everyday objects and images often serve as starting points for discussions about immigration and even encourage students to make connections to their own lives. One of MOCA’s goals is to provide for a more integrative and inclusive historical narrative in which social issues are open for examination – especially for those who have not been part of mainstream representations in our public culture.

What is also fascinating is that though MOCA’s origins are situated in the geographical context of Chinatown, the narrative of the Chinese American experience is something that speaks to anyone from the Redwood Forests to the Gulf Stream waters…

Come visit MOCA, and experience it for yourself!

Karen Lew
Associate Director of Education

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Reflections on 9-11

This fall, the MOCA presents Chinatown POV: Reflections on September 11th in the Jundy and Tin An Cheng Salon from September 11, 2010 through November 29, 2010. This installation includes first-person accounts, photographs, and mixed-media represents voices from a neighborhood just ten blocks away from Ground Zero.

In honor of the exhibition, we share the reflections of Cynthia Lee, our Curator and Director of Exhibitions. This was written on the one-year anniversary:

This is what I remember about September 11th

I needed to get into work early that day, and it was beautiful out – a clear blue sky that made even New York City feel … clean. It was election day, and three Chinese American candidates were running for City Council in Chinatown. I was thinking that it could be a historic day for the Chinatown community. When I emerged from the subway station, it was a little after 9:00 AM.

As I turned the corner and walked down Mulberry Street, I saw plumes of black smoke over the building tops. “Where’s the fire?”, I wondered. As I got to the Museum’s front entrance, I realized it was coming from the World Trade Center. And it wasn’t just a fire, it was an inferno. I walked over to where a small group of onlookers had gathered beside Columbus Park. One man said that he saw a small plane crash into the tower, his arms recreating the “accident”. Everyone spoke in hushed tones… incredulous. The flames were still red hot as they spewed from the gash in the side of the tower.

I wondered how anybody could possibly survive this. And at the same moment, I knew that Windows on the World was sitting right above the crash. The Museum had its last two fundraising dinners at the restaurant renowned for its commanding views of New York, and I watched in horror as I imagined the staff at Windows trying to escape the fires raging below them. We had very fond memories of working with the Windows staff on those dinners – after each event we would say, such nice people.

When I got into the office, our small, rotary dial, black-and-white TV was serving us minute-by-minute news coverage of the crash. We were in the middle of moving office furniture, files, and supplies to our new second administrative office so there was a lot of activity in our cramped work space. Outside my window, I could see the fire continuing to burn. I felt so helpless, or rather, so useless. People were dying before my eyes.

Then there was an explosion that I could actually feel in my chest. I looked up and saw another burst of flames in the crisp blue sky. And Lamgen, who was watching the news, announced that another plane – a jetliner – had hit the second tower. Oh my God, this was not an accident.

From that point, everything seemed to happen so quickly and yet in slow motion. The towers, to our absolute horror, came down before our eyes seemingly within seconds … one … by one. And still, the sky remained blue, and the sun which used to be blocked by the towers was now filling spaces in our office unlike before. Our neighbor had a video camera and exclaimed that he had caught it on tape.

It felt like Orson Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” When the towers went down, we lost our TV transmission. We followed the events over the radio. Plane went down over Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Reported fires on the Mall in D.C. Plane crashed into the Pentagon.

Three visitors to the Museum, two tourists from China and their friend from New Jersey, came in bewildered. They had videotaped the Twin Towers as they viewed the New York skyline from New Jersey, and when they emerged from the Holland Tunnel, they were gone. We found another TV and all gathered in front of it, hungry for news.

Transportation lines closed: bridges, tunnels, subways. People were moving en masse throughout the city. We needed to find our way home somehow. Jill said I could borrow “The Huff,” her legendary pink Huffy bike, to make it back up to the Upper West Side. I made it only half a block on the bike, realizing that it was too tall for me and that I couldn’t adjust the seat. Besides, the roads were quickly being closed to traffic below Canal Street. I walked along Canal, prepared to hike back home on foot, when I heard police officers making announcements that buses were transporting people uptown. New Jersey bus companies had donated their services to evacuate the masses of stranded people away from Lower Manhattan. We were to be dropped off at one stop – West 65th and Amsterdam. You had to find your way to other points from there.

Looking outside my window, I watched as hordes of people gathered at various intersections on Canal Street. All looking towards the plumes of smoke left behind by the Twin Towers… taking photos, videotaping, staring in disbelief. People were asking the bus driver to drop them off at this and that street. He shook his head, this was not a time for special requests.

We sped up the empty streets of New York – a caravan of coach buses. People on the sidewalks looked at us, wondering who we were and why we had a police escort. That’s when I began to feel the disconnect between myself and other New Yorkers who weren’t near the WTC. Getting off the bus, there was a crowd around the Red Cross offices near my apartment. People wanted to donate blood or volunteer, anything. People were turned away – come back tomorrow, we already have more volunteers and donors than we can handle. Down the street I overhear two people talking, what do you want for lunch? I was in another space completely from what was around me.

My friends and relatives tried to call me. Frustrated and scared that they were unable to get through, they emailed me. I’m okay, I reassured them. Really sad, but okay. I realized that it was my friend’s birthday that day. We were going to celebrate together, being that we shared September birthdays. It felt ridiculous to think about my 31st birthday now.

The next day, I tried to donate blood. Come again later, they said, we have more than we can handle right now. On the third day, I was finally taken in to the makeshift donation center at the Martin Luther King Jr. High School. I’m underweight, but I don’t tell them. I got in line and waited eight hours to get poked in the arm. Neighboring businesses donated food for us throughout the day.

We weren’t going into work because they closed off the streets to non-residents below 14th Street, then later the line was moved to Canal Street. When I finally returned to work, I had headaches from the toxic-smelling air. It was acrid, gray, and oppressive. The streets were empty of people and trucks, and lined with armed guards and blue police barricades. We worked from our cell phones because all the phones lines had been damaged with the building collapses.

Later, we could hear the crowds of people outside our windows, waiting on line for relief funds. There were stories of elderly people who died because they couldn’t call an ambulance, workers being laid off, and stores closing shortly after 9/11.

One year later, I still have not been able to visit ground zero.

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