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Chinese American exhibition traces waves of immigration to US


12-08-2014 04:21 BJT

A new exhibit in New York City sheds light on the ties between China and the United States around the time of America’s independence right up to today. It’s mainly an exhibit about people and the waves of Chinese who immigrated amid much resistance. The New York Historical Society’s exhibit called “Chinese American Exclusion Inclusion” begins with a tale about trade.

In 1784, the Empress of China set sail for Canton. It was the first U.S. merchant vessel to travel to China. The voyage marked the beginning of a longstanding trade relationship. Chinese immigration to the U.S. came decades later but was cut short by discrimination. "Through the recreation of an immigration inspector’s office and a detention barracks, the exhibit highlights the extraordinary hurdles only the Chinese had to jump over in order to enter the country."

Hurdles created by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that forbade Chinese laborers from entering the country. Only merchants, teachers and diplomats were allowed in but they faced challenges, too. “They would ask them very specific questions about perhaps their home village, about people in the village, people who were sponsoring them to come into the country. “But these questions were so detailed that even somebody who technically was eligible to enter the country probably needed to study up.”said Cynthia Lee, an assistant Curator of New York Historical Society.

No other immigrant group at the time faced such rigorous questioning. The museum chose to illustrate the Chin family’s experience through a graphic novel because they were particularly adept at keeping documents.“They had heard that my family had a very rare artifact and it’s something we call a ‘coaching book,’ which was a book of questions and answers and its particular to my family but they’re questions that someone might be asked when they were interviewed coming through immigration in the United States.” said Amy Chin, a Chinese-American.“My family, I think, always felt that history was important. And I think the other reason is that because of the exclusion laws it was important for them to have these documents to prove their right to be here.” Who has the right to be in the United States…what does it mean to be American… these were questions debated in the early days of America’s history but are still being discussed today.

“There was a time when people didn’t really think that this was worthy scholarship but since the generations have passed it’s become clearer that this history is something that all Americans need to know about.”said Cynthia Lee, Assistant Curator, a New York Historical Society. The exhibit will be in New York until April 19th and is then scheduled to travel to other parts of the United States.

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