Taken in my trip to the Museum of the Chinese in America yesterday in NYC. The picture isn’t that great since I quickly snapped it on my iPhone; the museum guard had just turned his head and I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to take photos.
Anyway, it says:
“Unlike Ellis Island, created to process the large waves of new immigration from Europe, San Francisco’s Angel Island Immigration Station (1910-1940) was built to enforce the Chinese Exclusion laws. Thirty years after its doors closed over 135 poems were recovered, carved but forgotten on the wooden barrack walls. The poems revealed the immigrants’ feelings of homesickness and outrage at their treatment in America. At Angel Island Chinese were kept apart from other Asians. Men and women, including husbands and wives, were separated At any one time, between 200-300 men and 30-50 women were detained at the station, cut off from visitors before their cases were judged.”
I decided to visit the museum after renowned artist, architect and genius Maya Lin came to my university to give a lecture. I learned she designed MOCA to reflect and tell the stories of various Chinese-Americans through the lens of the museum’s visitors. The opening of the museum faces Chinatown and through a glass pane, onlookers can see the inside of a traditional Chinese general store. Though I was disappointed I didn’t see the wall with the names of sponsors mostly but not all, Chinese people from all over the world (TCK and Diaspora pride, y’all!), I still had a very enlightening experience. Perhaps the wall is being renovated?
Onto the next bit, exploring my experiences going to the museum.
This picture was strategically placed, I think, because almost all Chinese immigrants had to go to Angel Island before either 1. being able to enter and live in the U.S. or 2. being deported, as many were. After looking at contemporary photos of residents and workers of Chinatown by photographer Annie Ling, the viewer walks into an exhibit chronicling the arrival of immigrants. Hopefully this inspires you to visit the museum yourself! Thursdays are free though with student ID, my ticket was only $5 but worth every dollar.
I was both touched and enraged alternately, and sometimes experienced both at once while entering and exiting each new exhibit. Going to the museum was an illuminating and harrowing experience.
As an immigrant to the U.S. myself, after having lived in New Zealand, another European colonized country; I have felt at times, bitter, enraged and estranged from the other Asian-Americans I have spoken to, many of which were 3rd or 2nd generation. Going to the museum and seeing the poems, the journals and testimonies, glimpsing the lives of early Chinese immigrants was so fulfilling. Seeing and witnessing (through the power of technology and archives), some of my perhaps distant relatives and predecessors’ suffering, touching their words, hearing the echoes of my relatives who had settled in the U.S and Canada before my parents did was especially powerful. I can empathize because though the means and the occupations, the suffering in itself may be different, the feelings I had (and still have) are mutual – bitterness, estrangement, alienation.
Now I feel as though I am better able to understand perseverance and the position I myself and others like me, other diasporic Chinese immigrants and assimilates are able to achieve in society through the suffering that came before me and the Asian-empowerment movement of the 1970’s. I’m still learning, of course (and still angry I didn’t learn anything from the curriculum left out in the public schools I have attended in both New Zealand and America). I’m learning through the archived testimonials, interacting with other diasporic Asians, POC and non-POC, as well as living, breathing and simply being. Plus making music and writing. Without words I don’t know where I would be.
“We so strong that we will show you what it means to be human by our work by our songs by the way we talk by the way we be by the way we treat people by the way we teach, we will show you what it means to be holy…” -Sonia Sanchez about Toni Morrison and Bernice Reagon in an interview facilitated by the amazing woman.