Friday, August 1, 2014

Museum of Chinese in America

I was amazed at this little gem of a museum down on Centre Street in lower Manhattan devoted to the story of the Chinese in America.  From their website: 

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 greatly expanded MOCA at 215 Centre Street is a national home for the precious narratives of diverse Chinese American communities, and strives to be a model among interactive museums.

And interactive it is...originally I went to see a current exhibit Oil and Water: Reinterpreting Ink but was drawn into the permanent exhibit, With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America.  From its opening panel with exquisitely poignant prose, one moves through hearing the stories, seeing the photos and examining the objects of the Chinese in America.

One of the chapters in this history is the Chinese laundry and to give us a sense of the labor involved, visitors are asked to lift an iron that was used (probably for 12-hr days) day in and day out by these laborers.  It weighed a ton!  Well, not a ton, but eight pounds, and I could not imagine I could wield that iron for more than sixty minutes without my arm falling out of its shoulder socket.

There was such design and beauty in the objects I sawfrom the everyday to the extraordinary and none more wonderful than the recreated store where you could see and smell the teas and canned goods available to Chinese customers.

Even this rolling ladder (from the Putnam Company) meant for the utilitarian purpose of reaching things on higher shelves, had lovely decorative metal caps on its wheels...


I was amazed by this handmade infant's cap knitted in the 1930s ...that seemed to have a swastika over each ear!  I've since learned that this is the Buddhist/Hindu Manji representing harmony/love/ mercy/intelligence/strength/     and the Nazis appropriated this symbol but turned it on its side...

Pretty awful to have this contradiction.
The Chinese in America suffered terribly...

...until we switched our prejudice from the Chinese to the Japanese in World War II.

There were even magazine ads showing readers how to tell the Chinese 
from the Japanese.  
[I decided to spare everyone those images.]

Eventually I made my way to the other exhibit which I thoroughly enjoyed...

And because it was a Thursday when I visited this gem, here's what I paid...a fabulous bargain!

I say: Get yourself down to this designed-by-Maya Lin jewel of place and remember when Made in China meant fabulous, exotic and special.  


  1. Looks really interesting. I want to go!

  2. Love the photos. . . especially the store shelves. And I'd never heard the origin of the swastika. Thanks for posting this.