belonging

Is Belonging a Place or Something You Carry With You?

Anyone with a meaningful connection to the nine-county Bay Area is invited to “share their story of belonging” by January 2. This call is deliberately open-ended.

A drawing of a bakerya drawing of a human figure with the heart highlighted

For some people, there might be a place where they feel (or have felt) belonging. (This is how I framed last year’s project exploring belonging in Albuquerque.)

For others, maybe they carry a sense of belonging with them. I was inspired to add this section by Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, in which she argues that true belonging, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, is belonging everywhere and nowhere.

[I also included a section for people who neither feel belonging tied to a place or carried with them.]

If you haven’t yet submitted, please do! There’s less than 2 weeks left before the January 2 deadline.


With these multiple definitions of belonging in mind, it’s interesting to read:

“The Galería is not just this corner. The Galería is a movement.”

 

—Ani Rivera, Galería de la Raza Executive Director (in Ryan Kost, “Galería de la Raza, a birthplace of Chicano art, finds respite from exile” SFGate.com, December 20, 2018)

As most in the SF art community members know, Galeria de la Raza was one of the birthplaces of the Chicano art movement. It was located on 24th Street in the Mission District for as long as I can remember. Over the past few months, it’s battled a 100% rent increase. Rivera is announcing that they’re going to move, and find another location, but it may be nomadic—everywhere and nowhere—for the next two years.

It’s interesting to think how a place matters (obviously they’d want to stay in the Mission), while an identity or soul doesn’t have to reside in a specific building. Maybe carrying your belonging with you is a form flexible, strategic resilience in the face of gentrification and displacement. Maybe your sense of belonging can be tied to a place and also carried with you.


Many conversations I have in the Bay Area are about loss—about the working class, families, and artists—who have moved away to outer suburbs or different metropolitan areas. Take a look at this recent report on US cities with the greatest potential influxes and outflows:

More people are thinking about moving to a new city. Some 25 percent of those looking at homes for sale were searching outside their current metropolitan areas — up from 22 percent during the same period in 2017.

The general trend was away from pricier East and West Coast markets and toward more affordable inland areas. The top 10 most-searched destinations had an average home price of $150,000 less than the top 10 areas people were contemplating leaving.

Michael Kolomatsky, “Which Cities Are People Leaving — and Where Are They Going?” NYTimes.com, December 20, 2018

San Francisco tops the list of 10 cities with the greatest potential outflow.

San Francisco is also the top city of origin for three cities with greatest potential inflow:

Sacramento (#1)
Portland, Oregon (#4)
Austin, Texas (#7)

This is pretty outsized, considering that San Francisco is the 13th most populous city in the US.


TC was recently telling me that everything about San Francisco—from losing collaborators who move away, to the cost of living, to the ever-increasing traffic—feels like it’s pushing you out, and you have to proportionally become more determination to stay.

I replied that it sounds like San Francisco is turning into New York City.

I’ll think more about this. I’m interested in the love-hate relationship some people have to NYC. For those who can afford it, escaping the city (summering on the Hamptons or apple picking upstate) is considered a key to staying sane here. This has more to do with the place itself—crowdedness, tourists, and heat waves in the summer, and the general logistical nightmares of navigating such a large, expensive city. I wonder how love-hate relationships figure into the Bay Area. The negative emotions I’ve heard about are often about the impacts of changes, not qualities of the place itself. For me, when I lived in Oakland, it was a respite from San Francisco, but now Oakland is the US’ 5th most expensive city to live in, just after NYC.

Unfortunately, San Francisco can be a counterexample. There’s a fear that NYC (which as almost 10x the population and almost 10x the square mileage) is turning into SF:

“[Deputy mayor for housing Alicia Glen’s] legacy is bringing Amazon and turning New York into another version of San Francisco.”

—Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of Align, a group focused on labor and income inequality (as quoted in J. David Goodman, “Deputy Mayor Who Oversaw Amazon Deal and Troubled Housing Authority Is Leaving,” NY Times, December 19, 2018)

[Read “Bad Deal, Bad Company, Bad Billionaire: How Proposed Taxpayer Subsidies for Amazon HQ2 Can Still Be Stopped.”]


One of the challenges of this project is balancing rays of light against the doom and gloom of San Francisco’s changes.

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belonging

What is the Bay Area?

I’m asking the public to tell me where they feel belonging in the “nine-county Bay Area.” What does that even mean? 

There’s a paradox in studying belonging while excluding people outside of the nine counties. Yet, there has to be some parameters, and the nine-county definition is a commonly-used one.

682px-Bayarea_map

Map of the nine-county Bay Area. Source: Wikipedia // Wikimedia Commons.

I would like this project to be as inclusive and diverse as possible. I aim to achieve geographic diversity within the nine counties. When I was stressing out about this, Haas Arts & Cultural Strategy Coordinator (and artist) Evan Bissell wisely reminded me that no matter how many contributors participate, I can’t possibly be comprehensive in this limited art project.

Here’s my reality check:

“These nine counties include 101 cities, 7.4 million inhabitants and approximately 7,000 square miles of land.”

—Metropolitan Transportation Commission website

The nine counties cover a lot of area

It’s a little intimidating to realize how large this undertaking is when you realize the nine counties’ vastness.

The nine-county Bay Area is larger than Delaware (1,949 square miles) and Connecticut (4,842 square miles) combined.

It’s almost as large as New Jersey (7,354 square miles).

Another way to think of it is if you imagine the municipal organizations that manage transit or air quality in the region, and how many people and levels of staff are needed to assess the area.


A lot of people live here

If the nine counties formed a state, it’d rank 13th most populous below Virginia (8.4 M), and above Washington state (7.2) (Wikipedia).

The nine counties are more populous than the eight least populous states combined.

In fact, more people live in the city of San José (1.035 M) than the five least populous states (South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming). More people live in San Francisco than South Dakota. More people live in Oakland and Berkeley combined than in Vermont.


I’m mostly familiar with population-dense areas

When I look at the nine-county map, I’m struck by how many outer regions I’m unfamiliar with.

Though I’ve lived in the North Bay, East Bay, and peninsula over 30 years, I don’t know much about Sonoma, Napa, and Solano counties north of Santa Rosa, Napa, and Vallejo. Same with Alameda County east of the regional parks, and the peninsula west of 280. Nor have I ventured often south of San Jose, yet a vast expanse of Santa Clara County extends southward.

This map of population density shows generally less people living in these regions:

wherewelivenow-700x1062

Map: “Where we live now — 2010 household density and priority development areas” produced by Darin Jensen, Madeleine Theriault and Mike Jones of the CAGE (Cartography and GIS Education) Lab at U.C. Berkeley’s Department of Geography, and by Thomas Guffey and Michael Stoll of the Public Press. // Source: sfpublicpress.org.


How Areas and Population Compare

To put this in perspective, I did a quick-and-dirty comparison of percentage of square miles versus percentage of population. The colors correspond to the five subregions in the first map of the nine-county Bay Area.

nine-county-bay-area-area-population-comparisons-01a-1200x289

Comparison of percentages of area and population in the nine-county Bay Area.

While 61% of the square mileage of the nine counties falls in the North Bay (Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano Counties), only 18% of the population lives there.

About 25% of residents call Santa Clara County home, which covers only 10% in area. And 37% of people live in East Bay (Contra Costa and Alameda Counties), though it constitutes 20% of the square mileage.


Density and San Francisco, Oakland, and San José

I know that many cultural resources are concentrated in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. I’ve been making an extra effort to reach people outside of those cities.

Though San Francisco, Oakland, and San José make up only 3% of the square mileage, one in five people in the nine counties live in those three cities.

What this means to me is that my outreach efforts to the suburbs and exurbs are worthwhile, but I shouldn’t be surprised if SF, Oakland, and San Jose are well-represented (if not overly represented due to network effects).

There’s roughly equal numbers of people living in the entire North Bay as there are in San Francisco, Oakland, and San José. But I’m not sure how to conduct a comparable amount of outreach in the North Bay, which is 21X the area of the three major cities.


More info

For a friendly 8-minute intro to the nine-county designation, listen to KQED’s Bay Curious episode, “How Do You Define the ‘Bay Area’?

Find more maps in “Where Exactly Is “the Bay Area” by Egon Terplan and Sarah Jo Szambelan (June 19, 2018) on SPUR.org. 


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belonging

Belonging Project Workshops

If you’re interested in learning more about the Belonging Project, join us at one of these two workshops open to the public!


Berkeley | Public Service Center
Today // Monday, December 10, noon-1pm

Brown Bag Lunch with Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society Artist-in-Residence Christine Wong Yap
Belonging in the Bay Area

Eshleman Hall Room 212 A & B
UC Berkeley

We at the PSC have talked a lot about the ideas of othering & belonging. And, sadly, there are no shortage of examples of othering happening every day.
But what does belonging look like? How can we build it? Where can we cultivate it? These questions have felt harder to answer, even as we need belonging more than ever.

Come meet artist Christine Wong Yap, who is exploring belonging in the Bay Area as an artist in residence at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley. Christine has invited anyone with a meaningful connection to the nine-county Bay Area to share their story of belonging. She’s currently exploring the region, collecting diverse stories that she’ll compile into an atlas of belonging. Cal students can also volunteer to interview their family members in exchange for free admission to the Othering and Belonging Conference.

Bring your lunch, come hear about her work, and join the dialogue!


Belonging Project: free public workshop Sunday, December 16, 2–3:30 pm Union City Library Drinks and snacks will be served. Everyone welcome. Free and open to the public. A Chinese interpreter will be in attendance. with a drawing of a book

Union City | Union City Library
Sunday, December 16, 2–3:30 pm

The Belonging Project: A Free Public Workshop

Union City Library
Community Meeting Room
34007 Alvarado-Niles Rd
Union City, CA 94587

What does it mean to belong in the Bay Area? Together, let’s commemorate and amplify belonging with artist-made certificates, maps, and a book!

New York-based artist Christine Wong Yap will present behind-the-scenes photos of her process using calligraphy and letterpress printmaking.

Then you’ll have a chance to share your thoughts on belonging in a discussion and writing activity. Is there a place where you feel or have felt a sense of belonging? Or do you carry your sense of belonging with you?

Drinks and snacks will be served.
Everyone welcome. Free and open to the public.
A Chinese interpreter will be in attendance.

12墩16휑(槿퍅휑),苟敎2時逞3時30롸

聯북냘圖書館 ,區會議杆
34007 Alvarado-Niles Rd
Union City, CA 94587

“歸屬먁”項커
출費무묾桔討會

瞳灣區這樣돨뒈렘,“歸屬먁”對콱個훙랍喇야唐부種雷義?

讓乖們拷過묏藝製鱗돨證書、뒈圖鹿섟書석,묾谿깊拉並瓊“歸屬먁”!

紐約藝術소Christine Wong Yap(葉黃셰聚)將嵐刻劒賈痰書랬結북攷경경畫創鱗돨캥遜製鱗직넋宮튬섞錦。

랍콱將唐機會롸權콱對這場桔討會돨였랬並參與寫鱗삶動。角뤠唐這樣寧個뒈렘、角讓콱먁돕샀鄧經먁돕唐歸屬먁돨? 샀諒,瞳콱內懃角뤠懷唐캐種歸屬먁?

將묩應飲죕與點懃。
歡短몹썹훙却參속。출費蕨무眾開렴。
現場將瓊묩櫓匡럇譯。

 


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belonging

Belonging Project: Germination

A quick update about what I’ve been up to:

Mostly I’ve been working on outreach—contacting organizations and individuals about the different ways they can get involved.

I’m planting seeds and hoping that they’ll grow, but I don’t know if they will. I feel like I’m in that moment of just staring at the soil where the seeds are. I’ll sigh with relief when the sprouts finally emerge.

As with the earlier Belonging project in Albuquerque, it’s a challenge to get the word out and align with organizations’ program schedules. The heart of the project is the stories. The quality of the stories and the authenticity of the voices represented gives the project  salience and integrity. I can only invite people to contribute to the inputs. I can make the outputs as well-crafted and well-made as I can, but ultimately, the reader or viewer is connecting through the stories.

If you can, please submit a story.
(It would mean so much to me!)

I am currently here in the Bay Area, with one week left in my five-week stay. (I did the entire project in Albuquerque, from the outreach to sign painting and installation, and zine release, in a five-week stay.) I’ll come back in January to install certificates and print bandanas). I figured December 20 or so, until January 1, wouldn’t be productive for outreach. But I’m already learning the hard way that these first two weeks of December are challenging too, too. College semesters CBO programs are already wrapping up for the year.

I approached the project in Albuquerque with more of a sense that it was an experiment—I’m not from Albuquerque, and the project was inherently limited by the shorter residency duration. With this project, the Bay Area is huge, I’m hoping to represent the nine-counties, and I lived here 30+ years. I have five months to do this project. We’re planning to print 1,500 books (10x the Albuquerque zine edition). There’s the irony about mapmaking: maps convey comprehensiveness, though, by nature, are abstractions and limited representations.

 

Haas1d6-colored-illos-no-text-white-BG-11

The Belonging Project aspires to represent voices from the nine-county Bay Area: San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma, Napa, Marin. Anyone with a meaningful connection is invited to submit a story!

 

This project will be the culmination of many collaborations. I will literally have mil gracias (thousand thanks) to say by the end. Right now, I especially want to thank the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society; Evan Bissell for all his support coordinating the residency, advising, assisting, and encouraging me; Elizabeth Travelslight for inviting me to do a workshop with her SFAI class; Jaime Austin, Bryndis Hafthorsdottir at CCA Exhibitions for coordinating and/or facilitating workshops with students at CCA and Live Oak School, whose stories will feed into the Haas project; Ben Gucciardi for inviting me to do a workshop at the Soccer Without Borders program at Castlemont High; Carrie Donovan for spreading the word and organizing a Brown Bag lunch at the UC Berkeley Public Service Center; Abby Chen, Hoi Leung, and Yuanyuan Zhu from the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco for jumping in 100% and organizing a bilingual workshop at the Union City Library as well as future possibilities; and the many college professors who have shared the project with their students, including Alicia Caballero-Christensen and Dana Hemenway who invited me to introduce the project in their classrooms at Laney College and UC Berkeley; Binh Danh and Mel Day, whose SJSU students are volunteering; and especially Kevin B. Chen and Kathy Aoki, who went above and beyond in rallying their students at SFSU and Santa Clara University to volunteer to conduct interviews with their families. 

I am here in the Bay Area one more week. If you’d like to meet, discuss, workshop, volunteer, coffee, high five, etc., let me know!

 


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belonging

Making a Letterpress Print, Step-by-Step

The steps I follow to make a letterpress print.

In my current project exploring belonging in the Bay Area, I’m asking the public to share their story about belonging. If they nominate a place where they feel belonging, I will commemorate that place with a letterpress-printed certificate.

Letterpress printing is an obsolete technology. It was used for proof-printing newspapers in the olden days, but these days it’s great for artist’s projects like mine.

Here are photos showing my process, using a combination poster-postcard-map marker I made for an project about Belonging that was recently exhibited in Take Action at the California College of the Arts.

Draw and Design the Artwork

doodles-600x482.jpg

I use a calligraphy marker to do quick thumbnail sketches/doodles.

calligraphy-sketch

Next, I draw a pencil sketch with my final composition.

calligraphydrawing

The next step is inking. I layer a clean sheet of paper over the pencil sketch on top of a light box, and copy the composition using a calligraphy marker.

safe-seen-accepted2-02a-400x600.jpg

Then I scan the inked drawing, and clean it up in Photoshop.

Make Polymer Plates

You can make polymer plates yourself, or just order them. Because I didn’t have access to a printmaking studio at the time, I ordered them from Boxcar Press. When I print the certificates, I’ll make my own plates at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley.

filmoutput.jpg

If you’re making your own plates, you’ll need to output a film positive, like I did with this previous project at Kala Art Institute.

polymerplates.jpg

I bought special plates with photo-sensitive emulsion, and exposed the plate with my film in a plate maker. Then I washed out unwanted emulsion and hardened the remaining emulsion with more light exposure. This left the artwork in emulsion that is raised a few millimeters, sort of like a rubber stamp.

Printing

When you have your plates and paper ready, you’re ready to print.

mixingink.jpg

The first step is to mix ink. I brought paint swatches and paper samples to color match with a Pantone formula guide.

rollers-plate.jpg

Apply the ink to the rollers. The coolest thing about this type of press (a Vandercook) is that the press has a motor and it distributes the ink on rollers and and inks the plate for you. (The downside is there’s a lot of rollers to clean.) You can see one of the polymer plates on the press bed in the bottom of the image.

stack.jpg

You can only print one color and one sheet at a time. This shows the stack of 200 sheets I printed. The design used two colors, so I had to operate 400 cranks through the press. Printing—from setting up the press, mixing the ink, making sure everything was aligned properly, actually printing, and clean-up—took me most of one day.

press-2-color

This is from a different project, but it helps to explain layering colors. In the upper left, you can see the first color, yellow ochre, was already printed. Then the second color, purple, is being printed on top, resulting in the finished print in the upper right. Because the purple is layered on top of the yellow ochre, it results in a brown.

Finishing

For this project, I needed to perforate the sections: the top is a poster, the bottom parts are a postcard and map marker.

perforation1.jpg

I perforated in the short direction using a rotary paper cutter outfitted with a perforation blade.

perforate2

These 17″ long sheets won’t fit in the rotary cutter lengthwise, so I use a hand tool to perforate between the postcard and the map marker. To save time, I set up a jig on a cutting mat to align the paper and ruler that was acting as a guide.

print.jpg

The finished print.

 


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belonging, Citizenship

Belonging: Points of Reference on Othering and Justice

 

Some points of references about why belonging is urgent.

I haven’t shared these references in discussing belonging much. I don’t want my own perspectives to overly influence the stories of belonging that participants share with me. But these are some of the references I think about…


Audra D. S. Burch, “He Became a Hate Crime Victim. She Became a Widow.” NY Times, July 8, 2017

This is a true story at a tragic nexus of islamophobia, xenophobia, white fear, gun violence, love, and grief.

In some ways, what one man shouted in anger and one woman uttered in grief capture one of America’s most troubling intersections.

“Get out of my country!” the gunman would yell, before opening fire on the two Indian men he later said he believed were from Iran.

“Do we belong here?” the widow would ask in a Facebook post six days after the shooting.

The assailant approached the friends. Witnesses recall him wearing a white T-shirt with military-style pins, his head wrapped in a white scarf. He was intent on finding out one thing: Did the men at the table belong in the country?

Adam W. Purinton, a white Navy veteran, turned to the two brown-complexioned men, both living in the United States for years, and demanded to know their immigration status.

Mr. Madasani said he and Mr. Kuchibhotla had decided to leave, but were stopped as other patrons apologized and assured them they were welcome. One guy paid their tab; the bar manager gave them another round of beer and fried pickles, a favorite of Mr. Kuchibhotla. “Everybody kept coming up to us saying this is not what we represent, you guys belong here,” he said.

If you can, read the whole article.


Yes, he was mine and now I sing his song. But he was also no different from so many other refugees who have to leave their homes, people with names that some make little effort to pronounce who continue to build America. Nor am I any different from the millions of people who fell in love and made family here….

And in the story of Ficre is the lesson that we are impoverished if we remain strangers to one another and that what makes this country unique is that the world is in it.


Every Right Is a Hard Fought Win

When I came across Fred Barbash’s “Birthright citizenship: A Trump-inspired history lesson on the 14th Amendment” (Washington Post, October 30, 2018, H/T Asian Americans Advancing Justice), it reminded me how the rights we’ve gained weren’t just handed over.

Immigrants have helped America fulfill its professed principles of equality by fighting for our survival and rights through lawsuits, advocacy, activism, wiles,  people power. See: 

Ronald Takaki, Strangers From a Different Shore, Little Brown & Company, 1998.


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Projects, Research

Studio Notes: A Poster on Angel Island Liberty Association for Celebrate People’s History

Research notes on small acts of immigrant Chinese people’s history.

The Angel Island Liberty Association (or “Self-governing Association”) was a mutual aid society run by Chinese detainees at the Angel Island Immigration Station from 1922 to about 1952. With the help of Chinese American kitchen staff, the Association smuggled letters to help detainees pass detailed immigration interrogations. Letters were folded inside wax paper and taped to the bottom of dishes. 天使島自由協會(或“自治會”)是一個約在1922年至1952年間由被拘留在天使島移民局的華人們所組成的互助協會。在美籍華裔廚工的幫助下,該協會為被拘留在島上的華人走私信件,將信件蓋上蠟紙折疊其中並粘貼至餐具的底部,幫助同胞們通過嚴格縝密的移民審訊。Celebrate People’s History. 擁抱人民的歷史
Christine Wong Yap, Angel Island Liberty Association poster for Celebrate People’s History, a project by Josh MacPhee/Just Seeds.

A Prompt, and the Challenge of Celebration

Josh MacPhee invited me to develop a poster for his Celebrate People’s History poster series, which “shares the stories of events, groups, and people who have moved forward the collective struggle of humanity to create a more equitable and just world.” He’s printed over 100 different Celebrate People’s History posters over the past 18 years. Learn more at Just Seeds.

Just Seeds is a powerful platform for radical affirmation. I love that they are not at all interested in being reactive. [I still think back to their call for art for their propaganda party in January 2017: “We will be avoiding all art with an explicit focus on Trump and his catchphrases. The more we represent him—no matter in what light—the more we re-inscribe him with power. Instead, focus on graphics that support the social movements that existed before Trump and will be fighting to exist after he is long gone.” Linguist George Lakoff has been saying the same thing: stop parroting Trump, even in outrage, instead ignore, redirect, and reframe the issues.]

In the context of family separations and heightened xenophobia, I wanted to share  a profile of Chinese American resistance against exclusion and racism.


Angel Island Immigration Station

I started by researching Angel Island Immigration Station. I visited in 2001, as part of the Chinese Culture Center’s In Search of Roots program, the only program of its kind in the US that helped Chinese Americans research and visit their ancestral villages in the Pearl River Delta region of Guangdong. The immigration station (which seems like a euphemism for what we might call it today, a “detention center”) detained tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants from 1910-1940, under harsh conditions and for indeterminate periods.

Historian Him Mark Lai, who co-led the Roots program, described the immigration station as a “major facility of the bureaucratic apparatus established to administer the Chinese exclusion laws.” While European immigrants were detained for an average of one to two days, Chinese immigrants were detained for an average of 16 days, with over 200 Chinese immigrants detained for over a year. Chinese detainees were subjected to unreasonably detailed interrogations. They were subjected to hours of questioning about things like, “How many windows were in your house? Which way did the door face? How many people lived in the house two houses to the East?” Answering incorrectly could result in being sent back to China. Husbands and wives were separated and barred from communicating. Despair led some detainees to suicide.


Angel Island Liberty Association

In my research, I learned about a mutual aid society run by male Chinese detainees. The group was named 自治會 (“self-governing association”), which was anglicized to “Angel Island Liberty Association.” They were active from 1922 to about 1952. Their activities varied, from advocating for better food (a major complaint that led to riots) and basic necessities (such as access to toilet paper and soap, which had been automatically granted to detainees of other races), to pooling resources for books or records and organizing diversions. Alleviating detainee’s boredom and despair is important to the wellbeing, and I don’t want to discount it. But I became enchanted by the Association’s covert activities.


Mutual Aid in an Unjust System

The Association colluded with Chinese American kitchen staff to smuggle coaching notes from detainees’ family or supporters in Chinatown to detainees. The kitchen staff would wrap the notes in waxed paper and tape it to the bottom of plates, which they served to Association leaders. Sometimes code phrases indicated the presence of notes, such as “extra serving” or “the chicken is especially good today.” Association leaders would find and hide the notes to distribute later to intended recipients. Coaching notes were a way to survive and resist a system designed to exclude based on racism and xenophobia.

I love this story—its ingeniousness, the solidarity shown by fellow immigrants, and the centrality of sharing food. The way I was raised (by Chinese parents who may not have always enjoyed food security in their own childhoods), eating is the sun around which everything else revolves—the day, family, life, even death (with Ching Ming). I know food is central to pretty much all cultures, but there’s something about Chinese voracity and emotional connection. (If you call someone, instead of asking, “How are you?” you ask, “Have you eaten yet?”)

This story also ties in to my interests in social practice, and how much social practice is related to food and/or radical hospitality. You could say that many social practices of sharing food are about passing messages of cooperation, mutuality, and dreams of freedom.

Though the Angel Island immigration station may now be a relic, immigration policies based on fear-mongering, xenophobia, and racism are not. When the system is unjust—teargassing children, rejecting asylum seekers—you can see how othering is about dehumanization.


Process Notes

I knew I wanted to depict this moment of solidarity and collusion, of the sharing of sustenance and information as keys to freedom. I also knew to show the giver and receiver both using two hands to handle the plate. This symbolizes respect in Chinese custom.

Once I identified the subject and the media, the rest was relatively straightforward. For the benefit of friends interested in drawing, I’ll de-mystify my process.

I use a lot of drawing aids. Fitting two people and the bottom of a plate in a portrait format requires foreshortening, which complicates any figure drawing. So I shot a few photos using myself as a model and composited them together (which was actually pretty funny).

From there, I printed the composite, sketched on a light box, inked my sketch, scanned, cleaned up digitally, printed, layered the print on colored paper to make the paper cut using an Xacto knife, scanned again, digitally colored, wrote the blurb, and added the text.

I thought about Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style, and using a typeface contemporaneous with the content. I searched for 1920s and 1930s typefaces. Many were the same I’d seen in letterpress printing, like Kabel. I like Kabel. It’s is a little too quirky for many contemporary contexts, so I was happy to use it here. I wasn’t able to apply Bringhurst’s principles to the Chinese text, choosing visual consistency with Kabel instead. [I’ve been typesetting Chinese texts or other projects and jobs, and this web designer’s research and findings have been a helpful resource.]


Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about the Chinese American experience on Angel Island, or about the Angel Island Liberty Association, I recommend the following:


Here’s the text of the poster:

The Angel Island Liberty Association (or “Self-governing Association”) was a mutual aid society run by Chinese detainees at the Angel Island Immigration Station from 1922 to about 1952. With the help of Chinese American kitchen staff, the Association smuggled letters to help detainees pass detailed immigration interrogations. Letters were folded inside wax paper and taped to the bottom of dishes.

天使島自由協會(或“自治會”)是一個約在1922年至1952年間由被拘留在天使島移民局的華人們所組成的互助協會。在美籍華裔廚工的幫助下,該協會為被拘留在島上的華人走私信件,將信件蓋上蠟紙折疊其中並粘貼至餐具的底部,幫助同胞們通過嚴格縝密的移民審訊。

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