History Comes Alive in New York Chinatown

November 1, 2016

During Fall Break, students in Professor Quan Tran’s “Asian Diasporas since 1800” (ER&M324 &WGSS 325) visited Lower Manhattan’s Chinatown on an optional field trip generously funded by the Ethnicity, Race, and Migration Program.

All in all, it was a fun-filled day full of learning opportunities. Students’ reflections capture some of the things that they have learned.
According to Jane Zhang: “From the walking tour, I was interested to learn that many different immigrant narratives came together in Chinatown. The relationship between the Eastern European immigrant, African American slaves, and Chinese immigrants helped shape the space in ways that I thought the name “Chinatown” didn’t capture or imply. Seeing the exhibition on Chinese in America helped show how “Chinatown” was often perceived as an area of the “other,” even though it originally was an area of racial mixing.”
Paul Lee adds: “I loved the tour of Chinatown, as it really helped me make connections between historical events and processes, and the present day New York that I was witnessing. As a Chinese-American, I began to draw historical and imagined connections between the struggles and successes of those who came before me, and my own struggles and successes today. I also particularly enjoyed exploring the MOCA archives. It was like having the insider’s scoop on how museum exhibits are curated and come to life. It was meaningful exploring the 9/11 archives, as I still remember that day when I was 5 years old. Through looking at photographs and reading oral histories, I found it striking how much solidarity and patriotism existed within the Chinese American community at large. As for the special food exhibit itself, I was amazed by its ability to weave art and personal storytelling so effortlessly together, and felt a sense of glee as I saw bits of myself and my family in the stories and food I learned about. To be completely frank, Icould hardly pull myself away from the room. Last, but not least, I genuinely appreciated being able to spend quality, out-of-classroom time with my classmates and professor. I value the personal connections we made throughout the day and I am sure it will contribute to my experience both in and out of the classroom in the future.”
Oriana Tang adds: “I really liked being able to actually be physically immersed in the environment we were learning and talking about. My family goes to Chinatown fairly frequently, so it was fascinating to understand the history of streets that I recognized…. It was also amazing to get a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the museum and to get to handle the raw materials of the exhibits outside of seeing them on display because it gave me a sense of what it must be like to examine historical artifacts and piece together the narrative joining them. And of course, I really enjoyed the exhibits themselves. I liked hearing the stories of everyone in the “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy” exhibit and I liked seeing the artifacts that made up the timeline of Chinese in America in the other exhibit. I especially liked reading about all of the important Chinese Americans who have contributed to the U.S. in some way since the colonial days. It was both touching and saddening to see how important Chinese Americans have been to American history and how frequently their contributions were ignored or glossed over. Finally, and somewhat unrelatedly, I liked getting to know everyone better by spending time with them outside of a classroom setting.”