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.

MOCA Monday: Flushing Ballroom

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.

Ballroom by photographer Kien Lee.

In 2003 the Museum of Chinese in America presented “Main Street, Flushing USA”, a creative documentation project around the Chinese American community in Flushing, Queens. The exhibition included photographs by Kien Lee, who said of his work “What I find for myself is that there is also more things going around you then you think.  Like the people sitting in front of the library enjoying the night air, ballroom dancing at night. What I tried to show in my images is how Flushing is at night.”

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MOCA Monday: PS 23

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.

Classmates from P.S. 23 pose for a school picture in 1942.

MOCA’s Collections & Research Center is located on the 2nd floor of the former Public School 23 building on the corner of Mulberry and Bayard Streets, diagonal from Columbus Park. For many years the Museum hosted reunions where former classmates gathered to swap stories of their golden school days.

(If you know anyone in the photo, let us know!)

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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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From Our Collection: Lion Dances, Then and Now

If you’ve been to Chinatown during Lunar New Year, you know that the celebrations are loud and colorful: street vendors sell vibrant fruits and flowers, and bright confetti lines the streets. The most well-known part of Lunar New Year, though, seems to be the lion dances that attract throngs of people every year.

During the new year, dance troupes visit local homes and businesses in the neighborhood, accompanied by the sound of deep drums and sharp cymbals. The lion dance—an ancient tradition—is meant to chase away evil spirits and bring good luck and prosperity. Our Collections Department presents a few photographs of lion dances from the last century:

Early 1900’s. 2004.073.018, MOCA Collection. Colored postcard depicting the Chinese Lion Dance on Chinese New Year. Printed on the back: “Chinatown at the Turn-of-the-Century from the antique original. Carinell-Vincent Co. Courtesy of K. Yee Collection.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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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











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