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CHINESE-AMERICAN HISTORY. "Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion," a travelling exhibit that chronicles the complex history of the Chinese in America, from the early days of China trade to the history of Chinese immigration and the life of Chinese Americans, is on view at the Oregon Historical Society Museum through June 1. Pictured are (clockwise from top left) a 1943 advertisement in the Chinese Press (Chinese Historical Society of America, the Certificate of Identity of movie star Anna May Wong (National Archives at San Francisco (54099), and an image of young Chinese men undergoing a medical examination at Angel Island (National Archives, Washington, D.C., 90-G-124-45). (Photos courtesy of the New-York Historical Society and the Oregon Historical Society)
From The Asian Reporter, V26, #9 (May 2, 2016), pages 13 & 15.
Timely, relevant exhibit on display at OHS
By Kate Hubbard
The Oregon Historical Society (OHS), an Oregon institution since 1898, is currently hosting an exhibit on loan from the New-York Historical Society. "Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion" chronicles the complex history of the Chinese in America, including the early days of China trade, the history of Chinese immigration, the life of Chinese Americans, and more. With immigration continuing to be a hot topic, the collection addresses issues that are as pertinent now as they were more than a century ago.
Visitors entering the exhibit are greeted with the sounds of water as well as images of ships and boats of all kinds. You can almost smell the ocean. The jumble of emotions immigrants must experience — fear, adrenaline, hope, sadness — permeate the area. Leaving one’s home and country for the unknown can be a terrifying decision and ordeal.
Walking through the display brought home how extensive and extreme prejudice can be. It points out how unfair double standards exist and persist and highlights the incredible amount of strength and resilience needed to persevere in the face of such hatred. "Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion" tells the stories of people who left their families behind to try to make a better life in America. And it clearly illustrates what it means to be excluded.
The U.S. claims to welcome all, but for many, access to the American Dream is denied and kept from reach. While perusing the collection — seeing the stories come to life with photos and artifacts, listening to audio of a re-creation of an immigration interview, viewing artwork, watching an excerpt of the black-and-white film Stage Door Canteen (1943) — visitors may consider their own story. Are you an immigrant or related to one? Have you been welcoming to newcomers? Accepting of the natural migration of humans?
A nice thing about "Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion" is its interactivity; museum-goers can pull out file-cabinet drawers to read a case history as well as sit on a cot and feel the roughness of the blanket that lonely travellers would curl up under. One can see a glimpse of the experience of the approximately 100,000 people of Chinese descent who, between 1910 and 1940, passed through the Angel Island Immigration Station — the west coast equivalent of Ellis Island.
Chinese Americans have fought for a long time to be included in the American demographic. Immigration restrictions were officially put into law with The Page Act in 1875, which was followed-up with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The 1892 Geary Act extended the Chinese Exclusion Act for an additional 10 years, then the 1902 Scott Act extended Chinese exclusion laws indefinitely. In 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act was finally repealed with The Magnuson Act.
While viewing the display, don’t forget to stop and look at Moo Lung, a beautiful dragon that is a symbol of the social and cultural wealth of Chinese-American contributions that was shipped from China at great expense and travelled extensively around the United States. Moo Lung was a way for Chinese Americans to show a presence in the community by appearing in parades and events — including Seattle’s "China Day" event held as part of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition — with the impressive creation. "Majestic" is an excellent description for this very old and culturally precious work of art.
The Oregon Historical Society has done it again — presented us with a timely and relevant educational display. Hopefully visitors to the museum leave with more compassion and understanding for those who have the courage to leave their homeland to move to this country. Acceptance and welcoming newcomers is what being American is supposed to be all about. In addition, the rich combination of peoples from every corner of the planet is what truly makes our country great.
"Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion" is on view through June 1. Also featured is a parallel and complementary second display, "Beyond the Gate: A Tale of Portland’s Historic Chinatowns," which opened in February and ends June 21 (see story on page 12).
The Oregon Historical Society Museum is located at 1200 S.W. Park Avenue in Portland. The museum is open daily — 10:00am to 5:00pm Monday through Saturday and noon to 5:00pm on Sunday. Admission is free for Multnomah County residents and Oregon school groups. For more information, call (503) 222-1741 or visit <www.ohs.org>. To learn more about the travelling exhibit, visit <www.chineseamerican.nyhistory.org>.
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