Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Archive

Date Range: 18002011
Survey Conducted: Fri, 2010-12-10
Creator: Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)

History: The Museum of the Chinese in America started as the New York Chinatown History Project in 1980 by historian John (Jack) Kuo Wei Tchen, community organizer Charlie Lai, and artists, historians, and students who recognized that the memories and experiences of older members of the community were in danger of becoming permanently lost to later generations. They hoped to address this problem by creating opportunities for collecting, preserving, and displaying historical materials reflecting the lives of Chinatown residents and workers over its long and complicated history.

The Chinatown History Project began at 44 E. Broadway and moved to the second floor of a building on Mulberry Street that had once been Public School 23 in 1984. In the beginning, most of the materials were collected through diligent legwork; many of the original items were salvaged by founding members from garbage dumpsters. Over the years, the museum’s name underwent several changes. In 1992, the project was renamed the Chinatown History Museum, and in 1995, the Chinatown History Museum was renamed the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, which reflected the newly evolved mandate of the institution to become a public and national institution.

The museum changed its name to the current Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) in 2007, and in 2009, MOCA moved into a new location at the site of a former industrial machine repair shop at 215 Centre Street. Designed by the architect Maya Lin, the new space increased the total size of the museum by six-fold and features an evocative central display consisting of an unfinished, exposed-brick and a large sky-light surrounding a large courtyard. The core exhibition, created by co-founder Tchen and Cynthia Ai-fen Lee, is called “With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America.” The original Mulberry Street location continues as the primary research and storage site for MOCA.

Today, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) continues to be recognized as “the leading national museum dedicated to preserving and presenting the history and culture of people of Chinese descent in the United States.”

Sources: Ma, Yue. Conversation with Daniel Kim. New York, NY. December 10, 2010.

Museum of Chinese in America. “Institutional Backgrounder.” Accessed February 3, 2015.

Museum of Chinese in America. “Building Fact Sheet.”

Rothstein, Edward. “Reopened Museum Tells Chinese-American Stories.” New York Times, September 21, 2009. Accessed February 3, 2015.

Voice of America. “Museum of Chinese in America Explores the Immigrant Life.”

Summary: The Museum of Chinese America records measure approximately 1200 linear feet and consist of artifacts, printed materials, photographs, audiovisual recordings, books, and other materials opened to the public research and used in, or supporting, exhibits and programs in MOCA, which include core exhibits like Where is Home?, and With a Single Step, as well as other exhibits and programs like Archeology of Change: Tales of Gentrification in New York Chinatown oral history project, Have You Eaten Yet?: The Chinese Restaurant in America, Ground One: Post 9-11 Chinatown oral history project, Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance: Chinese America in the Nightclub Era, Salvaged Stories: Lives Revealed from the MoCA Collections, Fly to Freedom: Art of the Golden Venture Refugees, Both Sides of the Cloth: Chinese American Women in the New York City Garment Industry, and Eight Pound Livelihood: History of Chinese Laundry Workers in the U.S.

The scope of the collection is very broad in terms of geography, date, and material. The oldest piece of the collection, a piece of textile, originates from early 19th Century China (ca. 1800-1810). Other items from the 19th Century include books, certificates, postcards and photographs. Most of the collection is made up of items from across the United States, but a few items are from Canada.

Total Size: 1200 linear feet
APA-related Size: 1200 linear feet
Languages of materials: English and Chinese
Arrangement: other
Bibliographic Control: inventory
Conditions Governing Access: Contact repository for detailed information on conditions governing access.

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