Three Views From MOCA Shanghainese Ball

By Luis Vazquez

It was a night meant to touch the past to link it to the present to strengthen the future. The Lunar New Year celebrations took place here last week at the China Blue restaurant which highlights Chinese 30’s decor in Shanghai which inspired the title of the event, The Lunar New Year Shanghainese Ball.

We spoke to three individuals, a president, a curator, and an architect who shared one thing, a culture that initially was not welcomed but today has found power in unity and generated a new perspective on Chinese-American culture. Through MOCA, the Museum of Chinese in America, there are many ways to tell the story of a nation. One is food. “I feel there are a lot of traditions that revolve around food,” explained World Famous Architect, Maya Lin.

To support that notion, MOCA announced this evening two of their large, upcoming exhibits. According to MOCA President, Anla Cheng Kingdon, the one coming October 6th of this year is one to keep an eye on. “It’s highly coveted and sought after.”

The title of the exhibit will be “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy.” It will focus on food to tell the story. “It’s the stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America taken from every different angle pursued to present the most amazing cuisine,” explained Kingdon. Thirty Chinese chefs were interviewed for this presentation.”They will present oral histories on how Chinese Food define their identity,” curator Herb Tam added.

The importance of an evening like this is making many aware of the existance of museums like MOCA. The role of a curator is often behind the scenes and event celebrations such as these highlight their accomplishments. “The museum likes to get involved in Lunar New Year events such as these specifically for close suporters to invite their friends to be part of the museum and community.”

The museum of Chinese in America is so essential when you think that 50 years ago, Chinese were excluded from the country via law. “We weren’t accepted,” Kingdon recalled, “There was an exclusion act that was not repealed until 1965.”

The ability to view the chronicles and documents of this and Chinese immigration to America covering 150 years is one not to miss. Many Chinese shared the awkwardness of being a minority of one in youth and appreciate the growth that is present today. “To be honest, when I was a child, I used to shy away from celebrations,” Anla Cheng-Kingdon reflected, “I shared Lunar New Year reluctantly. I felt alone in the celebration.”

For Herb Tam, it was a case of not only cultural transition but of travel from his California homebase in the form of a cross-country move to New York where he had to find new ways to celebrate. “It’s about expanding or growing your family, that’s who you celebrate with,” Tam explained, “Whether it’s blood or friends, where-ever you are, you are finding a sense of family.”

Maya Lin, who grew up in Athens, Ohio, was surrounded by white people, didn’t really understand her culture which took the backstage. But Lin credited her parents, which were educators, to allow them the room to discover it on their own. “My brother and I, over the years, we discovered our heritage,” Lin shared, “It’s why I find myself very committed to MOCA. Its ironic because I wasn’t interested as a kid, but now I see the importance.”

Maya Lin is very committed to memorials as her “lifetime” support to “What is missing? ” a foundation dedicated to Species loss attests. “It’s a Global art project memorial that has a large online component.”

This evening though Maya Lin raised her glass to one that is close to her heart and joined everyone for traditional Shanghai fare and 30’s dancing with the Shanghai Restoration project and jazz artist Zhang Le providing the sounds. It was a night that Lin, whose parents have passed, mentioned would have been right up their alley. “This is a Shanghai speak-easy, which my mom, who was from Shanghai, brings with it a lot of great memories.”

Even the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, opened up an opportunity for many Chinese by making February 8th, a public holiday for NYC students. For Kingdon, she summarized it best in closing. “What I love about America as a mosaic, not a melting pot,” Anla stated, “A mosaic is where every piece of glass is a beautiful journey.” Lin also added a reminder. “It’s important to remember how much we are a country that is built by these wonderful, different cultures coming together. This is the last place we should be spewing racism and exclusionary ideas.” Maya Lin added.

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