Mobilizing Chinatown: Past and Present on Film

When: Wednesday, May 25, 2022, 6:30pm

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Left to right: Headshots of Shirley Ng, Curtis Chin, Betty Yu, ManSee Kong
Left to right: Courtesy of Shirley Ng, Curtis Chin, Betty Yu, ManSee Kong

Co-presented with Asian CineVision.

What do laundry workers in Manhattan's 1930s Chinatown have to do with the neighborhood's activists today? Experience stories of repression, mobilization, and resilience in Chinatown, past and present, at this evening of documentary film and discussion. We begin with Betty Yu's Discovering My Grandfather Through Mao, about Yu's grandfather's activist work with laundry workers during the Chinese Exclusion era, followed by ManSee Kong's Chinatown Tenant Stories: Mrs. Zheng on Delancey, about Chinatown resident Mrs. Zheng's introduction to community organizing. The screenings conclude with a private preview of Curtis Chin's unreleased documentary, Dear Corky, about the late photographer Corky Lee, who died of COVID-19. A talkback and audience Q & A with the directors, moderated by reporter Shirley Ng, will follow the films.  

This program is part of the Museum's celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, and accompanies the Museum's ongoing exhibition Activist New York.  

About the Speakers:
Curtis Chin is an award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker whose voice has been recognized by the National Association for Multicultural Education, the National Association for Ethnic Studies, the American Librarians Association, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and more. A graduate of the creative program at the University of Michigan, Chin has also received fellowships from ABC/Disney Television, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and served as a Visiting Scholar at New York University. As a community activist, Chin co-founded the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, the premiere non-profit dedicated to promoting Asian American writers. He has also worked as the Director of Outreach for the Democratic National Committee and served on Barack Obama’s Asian American Leadership Committee during his 2008 Presidential Campaign. HIs memoir, Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant is scheduled to be released in 2024. curtisfromdetroit.com

ManSee Kong is a filmmaker and cultural worker born and raised on unceded Lekawe and Munsee Lenape land (Queens/NYC). Her work is anchored in immigrant experiences and inspired by grassroots community organizing efforts. Her films have screened at Museum of Modern Art, Glasgow Women’s Library, film festivals and community spaces, with support from the Jerome Foundation, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Camargo Foundation, Spike Lee Production Award, Puffin Foundation, and Asian Women Giving Circle. In 2015, she co-founded Chinatown Art Brigade (CAB) with Tomie Arai and Betty Yu, a cultural collective that uses art to advance community-led social justice campaigns. CAB has received support from A Blade of Grass, Rubin Foundation, Asian Women Giving Circle, Fourth Arts Block, Culture Push, Laundromat Project, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, among others. ManSee is a Third World Newsreel Production Workshop alum with an MFA in Film from NYU.

Shirley L. Ng is a staff writer for the news blog, Asian American News (AsAmNews) and a community organizer at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). She is an advocate for the Asian American community, a passionate supporter of Manhattan Chinatown and a member of several groups and associations. Shirley attended NYC public schools and graduated from Hunter College with a BA in Media Communications and Political Science.  She was born in Manhattan and raised in Chinatown by immigrant parents from Toisan, China.

Betty Yu is a multimedia artist, photographer, filmmaker and activist born and raised in NYC to Chinese immigrant parents. Ms. Yu integrates documentary film, new media platforms, and community-infused approaches into her practice. She is a co-founder of Chinatown Art Brigade. Ms. Yu has been awarded artist residencies and fellowships from the Laundromat Project, A Blade of Grass, KODA Lab, Asian American Arts Alliance, and her work has been presented at the Brooklyn Museum, Queens Museum, NY Historical Society, and Artists Space. She holds a BFA from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, an MFA in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College and a One-Year Certificate from International Center Photography New Media Narratives program. Ms. Yu teaches at Pratt Institute, Hunter College, and The New School and has over 20 years of community, media justice, and labor organizing work. Betty sits on the boards of Third World Newsreel and Working Films and on the advisory board of More Art.

About the Films:
Chinatown Tenant Stories: Mrs. Zheng on Delancey (ManSee Kong, 2015, 6 mins.): Chinatown resident Mrs. Zheng reflects on her introduction to community organizing upon joining a local grassroots group after garment factories in Chinatown closed en masse after 9/11. Mrs. Zheng became a lead tenant organizer with CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities and successfully organized tenants in her own building on Delancey Street in 2005, pushing back against an unscrupulous landlord. Based on oral history conversations with Mrs. Zheng, Chinatown Tenant Stories is a video and talkback series created for use in tenant organizing meetings, and produced as part of the Asian American Oral History Collective in collaboration with Chinatown Tenants Union of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, with support from Third World Newsreel and LMCC.

Dear Corky (Curtis Chin, 2022, 16 mins.): For over fifty years, Corky Lee photographed New York City's Chinatown, as well as the Asian American community around the country. With a strong sense of social justice, he captured the biggest activists and celebrities to the everyday heroes. Sadly, after continuing to document the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, he fell to COVID. Through his words and pictures, this documentary offers a glimpse of the man behind the camera. 

Discovering My Grandfather Through Mao (Betty Yu, 2011, 18 mins.) is a short documentary film about Betty Yu's personal journey as she uncovers her grandfather’s radical history as a labor organizer and co-founder of the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance of New York (CHLA), one of the oldest Chinese-American labor organizations in this country. Her grandfather, Sui Woo, a hand laundry worker came together with other workers and recognized the need for an organization that could challenge the racist and anti-Chinese policies in the 1930's. Today, Chinese Americans and immigrants can learn from this rich history of workers resisting institutional racism and recognizing the importance of community organizing as a powerful tool.

About Asian CineVision:
Asian CineVision (ACV) is a 501(c)(3) media arts nonprofit devoted to the development, exhibition, promotion, and preservation of Asian and Asian American experiences through storytelling. Our mission is to nurture and grow the community of makers and enthusiasts of Asian and Asian American independent film, television, and digital. 

Event Logistics (subject to changed based on NYC regulations):

  • Proof of vaccination is required for entry to the event (everyone over the age of 5). Excelsior Pass is accepted for those who were vaccinated in NYS. 
  • Masks will be required.
  • Please contact programs@mcny.org with any questions or ticketing issues.
  • All sales are final; refunds not permitted. Exchanges and credit for future programs only. Programs and dates may be subject to change. The Museum of the City of New York reserves the right to refuse admission to latecomers and/or those who do not provide requested Covid-19 documentation.  

 

Partners

This program is co-presented with Asian CineVision.

Activist New York and its associated programs are made possible by The Puffin Foundation, Ltd. 

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