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. The museum promotes dialogue and understanding among people of all cultural backgrounds, brings 160 years of Chinese American history to vivid life through its innovative exhibitions, educational and cultural programs. Current exhibitions include “With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America,” MOCA’s new core exhibit featuring four Chinese-American artists’ works, and “Fold: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures,” another exhibit engaging visitors in a conversation about immigration issues.
MOCA was established in 1980, first as an
organization called New York City’s Chinatown History Project, which was
founded by historian Kuo-Wei Tchen and activist Charles Lai. It
was originally located in an old public school facility in Chinatown as a
community-based organization, and three decades later, it moved to its current
location, 215 Centre Street, in October 2009. It has a 14,000-square-foot space
with new interior that was designed by Maya Lin, a long-time support of MOCA
and renowned artist and designer.
MOCA aims to engage visitors in an ongoing and
historical dialogue, in which people of all backgrounds are able to see
American history through a critical perspective, to reflect on their own
experiences, and to make meaningful connections between the past and the
present, the global and the local, themselves and others.
This dialogic approach was explored and conducted by Tchen and Lai during the
museum’s Memories of New York Chinatown Exhibition. It promotes communications
among different understandings of the history of Chinese in America and helps
shape and reshape identities on the individual and collective levels through
individuals’ discovery of the past. Dialogs took place in various forms,
ranging from casual to formal, including inviting a local organization like
Asian Americans for Equality or a writer for a Chinese newspaper to hear
people’s voices on the street, partnership with local schools for educational
programs and a Chinatown artist association with organize exhibition of the
works of its members.
MOCA gathers photos, letter, documents and other
artifacts to tell compelling stories of Chinese Americans’ customs, rituals,
and their struggles and achievements in the United States within the context of
American history and culture. MOCA’s current exhibits include “With a Single
Step: Stories in the Making of America” and “Fold: Golden Venture Paper
Sculptures.” The former exhibit presents the diverse layers of the Chinese
American experience, while examining America’s journey as a nation of
immigrants. This exhibit is organized thematically and chronologically by
section: “Go East! Go West! (1784-1870)” “Down with Monopolies: The Chinese
Must Go! (1870-1930s)” “Imagined and Intimate (1900-1930s)” “Welcome to
Chinatown!” “Building Community” “The Rising Spirit” “Allies and Enemies
(1940-1950s)” “Towards a More Perfect Union (1960-Present)” “Many Voices, One
latter exhibit presents the story of the passengers of the Golden Venture a
ship carrying 286 undocumented Chinese passengers that ran aground in the New
York City in 1933. Over forty sculptures collectively created by the immigrants
while detained for years at York County Prison are on the display.