A Chasm in Chinatown


  • Kenneth Eng, Director
  • Neyda Martinez, Producer

Chinese-American woman holds her phone in her hand while staring out the window of a taxi cab.
Image ID: Chinese-American woman holds her phone in her hand while staring out the window of a taxi cab.

About the Project

"A CHASM IN CHINATOWN" follows the struggles of a Chinese American nonprofit, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), as its Executive Director, Nancy Yao Maasbach, navigates the challenges of NYC bureaucracy and politics in an effort to secure the museum's uncertain future. For Nancy, the fight is about preserving MOCA's 40-year quest for a permanent home and a place in the American history narrative. However, as the museum struggles to survive, it finds itself at odds with the community it has pledged to serve.

Mayor de Blasio's jail reform plan - which includes the closure of Riker's Island and the construction of four smaller, "more humane" jails in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan - has sparked questions and accusations from community members and artists, many of whom view MOCA as complicit in the plan due to a $35 million dollar grant that has been awarded to the museum. Many in the Chinatown community accuse MOCA of "playing into the White Supremacist system" and being "complicit with the killers" of Chinatown.

The controversy exposes deep divisions within the community and reveals decades of microaggressions that have contributed to the "chasm" in the community. Political tensions are further exacerbated as out-of-work restaurant workers and young activists fight gentrification and displacement, viewing MOCA as part of the problem. The question of the role of a museum and the power to tell a community's story becomes central to the conflict. MOCA finds itself caught in the middle, balancing its role as an aspirational symbol of the community's legacy with the need to stay true to its roots. As class divisions and gentrification battles play out in Chinatown, the struggle for Chinese American identity becomes intertwined with the fight for the survival of Chinatown and the museum. What good are artifacts when a living community is disappearing?