Museum of Chinese in America: 160 Years in the Making

In the United States, the vilification of diaspora communities is an experience common to all emerging exile groups. For example, during the height of the Iran hostage crisis, Iranian Americans were subject to derogatory and inflammatory racist campaigns. For many Iranian Americans, the ghost of their past resurfaced last year in the infamous "Let's play Cowboys & Iranians" poster. This type of spectacle is not unique to Iranian Americans. In fact, many diaspora communities have been subject to this type of behavior (and worst) throughout American history. One such group is the Chinese American (CA) community, a community with over 160 years of history in the United States.

The California Gold Rush of the mid 1800s and the subsequent immigration of Chinese nationals to the U.S., provided many opportunities for cheap migrant workers to mine for gold. When gold became scarce and the economy declined, Chinese immigrants became scapegoats for the large scale unemployment of white workers. In 1882, with the passage of The Chinese Exclusion Act--the largest ban of free immigration in the U.S. history--life for Chinese immigrants became increasingly difficult. Despite the pivotal role played by them in building the First Transcontinental Railroad (1863-69), the act banned anymore Chinese from entering the U.S. As a result, many Chinese immigrants went into hiding and/or were separated their families. The law was finally repealed in 1943.

In the early 1980s, to combat the negative narrative about the CA community and to provide a safe space for CAs to celebrate their contribution to the U.S., the CA community, with the help of historian John Kuo Wei Tchen and activist Charles Lai, created the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). The museum's goal is to preserve the history of the CA experience in the U.S., and to make it more accessible to the general public.

The MOCA curates exhibitions (e.g., "With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America") that highlight the role of Chinese Americans through the lens of the U.S.'s journey as a nation of immigrants. Exhibition themes relate to the political relationship between China and the U.S., the perception of Chinese Americans within their own community and at-large, and the impact Chinese Americans have had on U.S. politics and culture. The Museum of Chinese in America celebrates both the negative and positive experiences of CAs in the U.S. and it is something that should be emulated by all diaspora communities.

For more information, please visit the Museum of Chinese in America website.