Offbeat New York

MOCA - Museum of Chinese in America - Has a New Home

The new home is a 14,000-square-foot space designed by Maya Lin, creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. This is a big move for the museum which had been stuffed into a 2,000-square-foot space at 70 Mulberry St. (on the second floor of a 19th-century building).

MOCA's new building features a skylit courtyard reminiscent of courtyards found in the center of a traditional Chinese home. In the front lobby is an art installation called "The Journey Wall," which consists of bronze tiles that show where Chinese American families came from and where they settled in the United States.

One of the exhibits the museum will be able to highlight is a replica of the carvings made by the roughly 175,000 Chinese immigrants who had been processed through the Angel Island Barracks in California during the first half of the 1900s. The carving include poems created in traditional Chinese characters, describing their emotions and reactions to their internment.

The core exhibit, With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America, presents the diverse layers of the Chinese American experience while examining America’s journey as a nation of immigrants through both historical overview of Chinese immigration to the United States, and the individual stories. It reveals what it has meant to be Chinese in America at different moments in time, to the physical traces and images left behind by past generations to consider, reflect and reclaim.

A key element of the exhibition is its dialogue with Maya Lin’s architectural centerpiece – a sky lit courtyard at the heart of the museum. The exhibit wraps around and engages with the courtyard, which represents the idea of China – a collective origin, which for many after the first generation, becomes a constructed, rather than an actual, memory. Not unlike the rooms of a Chinese house, each section of the exhibit is connected to the courtyard via portals. Each one containing films of people narrating personal life stories, demonstrating how history is propelled by individual moments of decision-making in the face of circumstances larger than themselves. External walls dialogue with the inner, in order to provide the larger historical context for Chinese American struggles and achievements.

Learn about the political climate in America leading up to the Chinese Exclusion Act, and its impact as the first federal law to restrict the immigration of a specific group based on nationality, defining in legal terms who could not “become American.” And the rise of Chinatowns across the US. Move on the the effects of politics in China and around the world on Chinese in America, and end with rise of globalization.

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