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.

Michelle Obama, Jason Wu, and American Reinvention

First Lady Michelle Obama wears Jason Wu to the Inaugural Ball. (Photo credit Reuters/Rick Wilking)

First Lady Michelle Obama wears Jason Wu to the Inaugural Ball. (Photo credit Reuters/Rick Wilking)

On Monday, January 21st, fashion critics and fashionistas waited with baited breath to see what, or rather who, First Lady Michelle Obama would wear to the Commander in Chief Ball at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, and her choice did not disappoint. She did, however, surprise many by opting for yet another stunning number by Taiwanese-American designer, Jason Wu, who designed her dress for President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. This time around, she made a more daring sartorial decision, choosing a vibrant floor-length ruby-red halter-neck velvet and chiffon gown, which was a major departure from her first inaugural dress: a romantic, albeit demure, one-shouldered white chiffon concoction.

Since then, Michelle Obama’s fiery red Jason Wu dress has fueled endless discussions on Facebook, Twitter, and personal style blogs. People can’t seem to stop talking about the power of her dress and what it represented. After Michelle first wore Wu’s design in 2009, the designer’s career underwent a meteoric rise. Almost overnight, the nearly-unknown designer became a household name. Fast-forward four years: Wu has launched a wildly successful capsule collection for Target, won the prestigious Swarovski Award for Womenswear at the CFDA Fashion Awards, and regularly dresses A-list celebrities for red carpet events. Most recently, Wu was chosen as one of the 17 designers in the Museum of Chinese in America’s highly anticipated fashion exhibition, Front Row: Chinese American Designers, set to open April 26th.

Why is Michelle Obama’s choice of dress so important? After all, the piece is worn once then put away behind glass at the National Archives. The First Lady’s choice matters because more than fashion statements, inaugural dresses are potent cultural symbols. The gowns chosen by the First Lady – along with all its idiosyncrasies, from its color to its cut – tell a story about the woman wearing it, and moreover, about the current socio-cultural times in which we live. Perhaps the boldest fashion statement made in First Lady Inaugural history, Michelle Obama’s dress choice did not just jumpstart a young designer’s career, it set the tone for what the world could expect from her as a new First Lady. Elegant, confident, and empowered, she embodied the quintessential modern woman in Wu’s dress.

Clothing and fashion are effective mediums for self-expression, and perhaps even more importantly, tools for self-reinvention. And reinvention, after all, is one of the main tenets of what it means to be American: to create yourself according to your aspirations. As President Obama stated eloquently in his second inaugural address, “America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive…and a gift for reinvention.” Jason Wu, who immigrated to America when he was a child, is a living example of such an American dream. At a young age, he has become one of the most successful designers not only of his generation, but in the world of fashion. Our upcoming exhibition, Front Row, will showcase that creative talent and give audiences a feel for the transformative power of fashion and design.

Front Row: Chinese American Designers opens at MOCA on April 26, 2013. In addition to Wu, the exhibition features designs by Thomas Chen, David Chu, Melinda Eng, Jade Lai, Derek Lam, Wayne Lee, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, Phillip Lim, Mary Ping, Peter Som, Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam, Yeohlee Teng, Zang Toi, and Vera Wang

Serena Cheng is currently a Curatorial Intern focused on the exhibition Front Row at the Museum of Chinese in America.

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MOCA Monday: Opening Receptions Past

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 love this photo of the opening reception of Eight Pound Livelihood, the very first show presented by founders Charlie Lai and Jack Tchen and the then-New York Chinatown History Project. We’ve come a long way in 30+ years!

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MOCA Monday: A Virtual Tour

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.

It has recently come to our attention that many of our blog visitors are not NYC locals, and have therefor not yet had a chance to visit the Museum! In a break from MOCA Monday’s commitment to showcasing images from the collections, we’d like to share a virtual tour of the space by artist, MOCA designer and Board of Trustees Co-Chair Maya Lin.

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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,

Filed under: Education, Public Programs, , ,

MOCA Monday: Lee Mingwei’s The Travelers

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.

Artist Lee Mingwei commissioned books that asked participants to reflect on the experience of leaving home.

In a break from MOCA Monday’s commitment to showcasing images from the collections, we’d like to share an image from a current exhibition: Lee Mingwei’s The Travelers. This piece was just written up in The New Yorker’s Goings on About Town. We invite you to view it through March 26. From their piece:

Two impressive installations by the Taiwanese-born artist grapple with the meaning of home. In “The Quartet Project” (2005), four video monitors, tucked behind partitions, document musicians performing Dvořák’s Op. 96 in F Major; known as the “American string quartet,” it was written while the Czech composer was on an extended visit to the U.S. The ambient play of light on the wall evokes both domesticity (home fires burning) and alienation (the flicker of TV spied through a stranger’s window). For “The Travelers,” which was commissioned by the museum in 2010, Lee made a hundred blank notebooks and invited participants to write down their thoughts about leaving home and then pass the books on to others and ask them to do the same. An air of distance is evident. One woman notes that in Europe, she says she’s from the U.S., in New York, she says she’s from California, and in San Francisco, she says she’s from Taipei. Even Maya Lin, who designed the museum, admits, “I still see myself as a Midwesterner, not a true New Yorker.” Through March 26.

Filed under: Exhibitions, Lee Mingwei’s Blog for The Travelers, MOCA, MOCA Monday, , , , ,

MOCA Monday: Fly to Freedom

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.

A ship made entirely of folded paper by refugees detained after the Golden Venture ran aground.

MOCA’s Fly to Freedom Collection includes 123 paper sculpture created by passengers of the ship Golden Venture.  The Golden Venture ran aground on June 6, 1993 and a significant portion of the nearly 300 passengers were held in detention by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, some for up to four years.  Detainees created sculptures first as gifts to pro-bono lawyers who took up their cases, and later, to pass time during the long days spent incarcerated.  Sculptures vary in design and subject matter, including simple pineapples to more complex forms like eagles, which supporters began to call “freedom birds.”  While connected to a specific immigrant experience, this collection illuminates the development, transmission, evolution, and maintenance of an often over-looked traditional art form.

Filed under: Collections, MOCA, MOCA Monday, , , , , ,

Legacy Awards Dinner: December 12

The Museum staff has been hard at work for many months now preparing for this year’s Legacy Awards Dinner on Monday, December 12. We are thrilled to be presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to Oscar L. Tang, as well as Legacy Awards to David Liu, Dominic Ng, and Pichet Ong. The evening honors these inspiring individuals for their outstanding achievements and contributions to the ongoing legacy of the Chinese in America. The video below highlights last year’s fantastic event–we can’t wait to share the 2011 video with you soon!


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MOCA Monday: Thanksgiving

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 and/or past exhibitions. For more information, visit our website.

Happy Thanksgiving, MOCA Friends and Family!

Filed under: MOCA, MOCA Monday, , , ,

What a difference a year makes!

Saturday, January 2, 2010, while visiting my best friend in Switzerland for the New Year holiday, I heard my cell phone’s text message silent hum several times in the middle of the night. Thinking it was probably Happy New Year wishes from friends in the US, I went back to sleep.  Well, it wasn’t…..they were urgent messages from the staff that there was a fire next door to the Museum and although the Museum itself suffered no fire damage, we did sustain major water damage as the exhibition space is on the ground floor and the offices are located in the basement of the building. In a few hours, over 10,000 gallons of water were released from the sprinkler along with an unknown quantity from the fire hoses. The Museum had only opened its doors a little over 3 months earlier—talk about trial by fire, or in this instance trial by flood—and I worried that we would have to be closed for extended period in 2010 for major renovation. Thanks to the hard work of the staff, the board, insurance adjusters, architects and contractors, the disruption was kept to a minimum.


2010 Water damage by fire in Core Exhibition

Staff in classroom during renovation

For the entire month of July, as they renovated our office space, all of us huddled and worked together in the classroom with no walls or any cubicles dividing us—we really got to know each other well that month!  Major work was finally completed this fall. My hats off to the entire staff, volunteers and board for its resiliency and commitment. It’s through team work that we have gotten this far as an institution. The new MOCA is as beautiful and relevant as the day we opened to the public on September 22, 2009.

This past Monday, December 28, 2010, we battled the elements again when a blizzard threatened to shut down New York City. I am proud to report that we were able to open to the public despite the snow as three of us were able to get to the Museum. My assistant Sophia Ma ran admissions and the gift shop, our IT Director Frank Liu dug us out until the snow removal people came, and I did coat check.  Believe it or not, we actually had visitors—I had the pleasure of greeting Dr. and Mrs. Yu; a retired professor from the mid-west now living in San Francisco, the family brought three generations of Yu’s to MOCA. The Yu family was right there when we opened our doors at 11:45 am! They were thankful we were open and I was thankful they came.

On Sunday, January 2, 2011, exactly a year after the ‘flood’, MOCA hosted our first wedding in the Chow Cultural Programs Center as YinXia and Vincent were married here surrounded by their family and friends. The sinking feeling of doom and gloom from exactly one year ago has now been replaced by the joy of watching a lovely young couple make a commitment to begin their journey together as a family.  As YinXia’s parents, Zan and Eva, proudly posed in front of their family’s Journey Tile with their daughter and new son-in-law, I marveled at what a difference a year makes and what an exciting journey lies ahead for the newlyweds and for MOCA.

MOCA hosted a wedding for the first time in its space


Happy New Year!

S. Alice Mong, Director, MOCA

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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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