So why is MoCA important? So many reasons. And I think the NYT article missed the point.
I remember I was once talking with a friend and she remarked, "You're the only Asian person I've ever heard refer to themselves as a 'person of color'." Another time, during an inter-racial dialogue, someone said, "I feel like I've heard a lot about the 'Black experience' in the States, but not really much about the 'Asian experience.' I'm curious to hear about your experiences."
More disturbingly, once one of the dean's of my friend's medical school said, "I can't tell the difference between White students and East Asian students." We're seen as the model minority, not underprivileged and not under-represented. At the same time we're not always accepted as American. When the public found out that the design for the Vietnam War Memorial was created by a Chinese American, people protested that an American monument should be done by an American. Lin was born in Ohio. On a more personal note, I've been told on more than one occasion after criticizing the American government that I "should go back to my own country." I was born in Connecticut. Furthermore, I don't think my white friends who are equally vocal in their politics, have been told that nearly as much as I have.
But I don't want to be misunderstood. I don't believe that the history of Asian folks in the United States needs to explored because it is directly a means to end racism (or even to educate about racism). In fact, MoCA is more about collecting histories rather than any sort of activism. The examples that I relate above illustrate the importance of understanding our own history, being in control of our own legacy.
Often when I talk about Asian identity in the context of the United States, both Asian folks and others are a little confused. They don't totally know how to synthesize all the information they receive. On one hand we're stereotyped as smart, overachievers. A race of people who take what white folks invent and then do it better. (Incidentally, this whole "model minority" stereotype incredibly damaging as it lulls people into thinking that all Asians are doing great! The statistics for Asians in the States do not actually reflect this. Our folks struggle too.) On the other hand, they're aware that we're not white, exactly. The mainstream representations of us don't fit into the mold of "oppressed race" and yet we're not "white." And so often I've heard other Asians say, "I don't really identify as Asian."
I think institutions like MoCA are fantastic because they reinforce a less stated notion: "We're not African-American. We're not White. We're not Latino. Our heritage is not a mix of any of those. We're Chinese/East Asian/Asian/etc. and we have our own history." Asian Americans have also helped build this country, we have our own patterns of immigration (albeit diverse), and most importantly: we're not in a no-man's land between black and white or privileged and not privileged. We're Asian American.
To me, that feels very empowering. When I claim my own identity in positive terms instead of negative terms (ex. Asian American instead of "not-white" or "not-black"), I gain a sense of self. Suddenly, it becomes possible to imagine myself as a character with agency instead of an extra in someone else's story. Most excitingly, it allows me to validate my humanity from within myself; invigorated, I'm ready to interact with my community in a positive way instead of sitting on the side lines wishing someone would validate me.
A short from an art class in 2005. We were to explore our family history through photographs.