Two ex­hibits at the Maxwell Mu­seum of An­thro­pol­ogy in Al­bu­querque


Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

thomas Nast pub­lished his po­lit­i­cal cartoon “Throw­ing Down the Lad­der by Which They Rose” nearly a cen­tury and a half ago, in 1870. On the sum­mit of a huge par­ti­tion, la­beled “The ‘Chi­nese Wall’ Around the United States of Amer­ica,” an­gry cit­i­zens of Euro­pean ex­trac­tion gather to top­ple a lad­der reach­ing up to them, leav­ing a hand­ful of pig­tailed Chi­nese peo­ple stranded per­haps 20 feet be­low. A copy of the draw­ing hangs near the be­gin­ning of the ex­hi­bi­tion Chi­nese Amer­i­cans in New Mexico at the Maxwell Mu­seum of An­thro­pol­ogy on the Uni­ver­sity of New Mexico cam­pus in Al­bu­querque, a show that of­fers his­tor­i­cal and so­ci­o­log­i­cal in­sight into a mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion that rarely fig­ures in con­ver­sa­tions about our mul­ti­cul­tural state. “The at­ti­tudes dis­played in this cartoon,” reads an ac­com­pa­ny­ing panel, “fore­shadow pas­sage of the fed­eral Chi­nese Ex­clu­sion Act of 1882.” Right. Yet the im­age seems so strangely con­tem­po­rary. As Ge­orge San­tayana fa­mously put it, “Those who can­not re­mem­ber the past are con­demned to re­peat it.”

Var­i­ous laws were passed in the late 19th cen­tury to pre­vent Asian im­mi­grants from tak­ing Amer­i­can jobs and osten­si­bly de­press­ing wages for other work­ers. The Chi­nese Ex­clu­sion Act of 1882 was the most far-reach­ing. Signed by Pres­i­dent Ch­ester A. Arthur (who may have been born in Canada), that law was sup­posed to last only 10 years, but it kept get­ting ex­tended or in­cor­po­rated into suc­ceed­ing leg­is­la­tion, and it re­mained es­sen­tially in force un­til it was fi­nally re­pealed in 1943. By the time it went into ef­fect, Chi­nese work­ers were al­ready part of the New Mexico scene. Many worked as la­bor­ers con­struct­ing the South­ern Pa­cific rail­road.

Af­ter that transcon­ti­nen­tal line was fully es­tab­lished in 1881, some of the Chi­nese work­ers found em­ploy­ment as min­ers. Oth­ers set up busi­nesses such as laun­dries and eth­nic restau­rants that didn’t com­pete with ex­ist­ing An­glo es­tab­lish­ments or shops spe­cial­iz­ing in im­ported Asian mer­chan­dise. Some­times they met with hos­til­ity, as was the case with some Chi­nese im­mi­grants who hoped to make a real-es­tate pur­chase in Dem­ing, ac­cord­ing to a story re­ported by the Dem­ing Head­light. “In 1888, for ex­am­ple,” an ex­hi­bi­tion panel ex­plains of the in­ci­dent, “an An­glo beat two Chi­nese men with a club for try­ing to ob­tain a city lot — and the lo­cal news­pa­per ap­proved of his ac­tions.”

Nonethe­less, the Chi­nese pres­ence per­sisted. The Maxwell’s team, headed by Devo­rah Ro­manek, its cu­ra­tor of ex­hibits, has brought to­gether a mod­est but fas­ci­nat­ing as­sem­blage of news­pa­per clip­pings, pho­to­graphs (por­traits and town views), and le­gal doc­u­ments that tes­tify to the in­creas­ingly vis­i­ble niche the com­mu­nity oc­cu­pied. A pho­to­graph from 1890-95 looks down East San Fran­cisco Street in Santa Fe. The view cul­mi­nates at the fa­mil­iar façade of the Cathe­dral Basil­ica of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi, but sharp eyes can make out a shin­gle mark­ing the Sang Kee laundry, one of the first Chi­nese es­tab­lish­ments in the cap­i­tal city and a tes­ta­ment to the tru­ism that clean­li­ness is next to god­li­ness. Other photos doc­u­ment the Chi­nese pres­ence in other parts of the state, in­clud­ing Kingston and Hills­boro (where min­ing booms of­fered good job prospects), So­corro, Las Ve­gas, Al­bu­querque, and Dem­ing. A 1902 map of Sil­ver City, pro­duced by the San­born Map Com­pany, iden­ti­fies by pro­fes­sion the busi­nesses in two of the city’s blocks: cob­bler, jew­eler, gun­smith, and so on — with sev­eral other lots la­beled just “Chi­nese.”

“San­born made these maps for in­sur­ance pur­poses,” Ro­manek ex­plained to Pasatiempo, “and, as I un­der­stand it, the im­pli­ca­tion was that if the block caught fire, the fire­fight­ers wouldn’t need to worry about the places marked ‘Chi­nese.’ ”

Some of the im­mi­grants flour­ished. We see an iden­tity doc­u­ment for Sam Kee, wear­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese garb in his photo. In 1903, an ar­ti­cle in the Al­bu­querque Cit­i­zen said he had ar­rived in the U.S. about 30 years ear­lier. He was ap­par­ently pros­per­ing at his shop on South Sec­ond Street in Al­bu­querque, where he dealt in Chi­nese and Ja­panese foods and goods. An ad­join­ing doc­u­ment bears the like­ness of his young son, Sam Ho Kee, and guar­an­tees his re-en­try to the United States fol­low­ing a pe­riod he spent go­ing to school in China, be­cause “the said Sam Ho Kee is a cit­i­zen of the United States, hav­ing been born in the City of Al­bu­querque, County of Ber­nalillo, and Ter­ri­tory of New Mexico.” We catch up with Sam Ho Kee again in 1906; at the age of six­teen, he is grad­u­at­ing from Al­bu­querque High School as vale­dic­to­rian of his class of 10 stu­dents — an achieve­ment con­sid­ered so re­mark­able that it earned na­tional press cov­er­age. From there, he would go on to at­tend the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan.

The ex­hi­bi­tion gives a nod to modern times by dis­play­ing a num­ber of teapots and cups lent by Al­bu­querque fam­i­lies. “Through­out my child­hood,” said Dr. Siu Wong of the heir­looms she pro­vided for the dis­play, “these tea cups were never used; they were too frag­ile for ev­ery­day life. In­stead they were a re­minder of my fam­ily’s af­flu­ent life­style prior to the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion of China in the late 1930s and early 1940s.” Al­though these pieces boast nei­ther great an­tiq­uity nor ex­cep­tional mon­e­tary value, they are cher­ished as tes­ta­ments to a fam­ily her­itage that led from a past in dis­tant China to a fu­ture in the Amer­i­can South­west.

Above, san­cai lid­ded tri­pod jar, CE 618-907; right, top to bot­tom, Thomas Nast: Throw­ing Down the Lad­der by Which

They Rose, 1870, cour­tesy Art & Pic­ture Col­lec­tion, New York Public Li­brary; in­te­rior of Fre­mont’s, with restau­ra­teur Jimmy Je­ung at far right, Al­bu­querque, 1947-58, gelatin sil­ver print, cour­tesy Ed Je­ung; Tom Ying Restau­rant and

Store, Hills­boro,1895-1902, glass neg­a­tive, photo pos­si­bly by Ge­orge T. Miller Op­po­site page, top, W.E. Hook: East San Fran­cisco Street, Santa Fe, 1890-1895 (de­tail), al­bu­men print cab­i­net card, cour­tesy Palace of the Gov­er­nors Photo Archives, Neg. No. 015325; cen­ter, Sam Ho Kee (top left) and grad­u­at­ing class, Al­bu­querque High School, 1906, cour­tesy Cen­ter for South­west Re­search, UNM, and Anna Naruta-Moya; bot­tom, iden­tity doc­u­ment for Sam Ho Kee, early 20th cen­tury, cour­tesy Na­tional Archives and Anna Naruta-Moya

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