April 27 – July 10, 2021
Suburban Chinatown is part of an ongoing body of work by photographer Jessica Chou that explores daily life in a cluster of majority-Asian suburbs in the San Gabriel Valley, a ten-minute drive east of Los Angeles.
Chou grew up in Monterey Park, the first U.S. city to reach a majority Asian-descent population by 1990 and labelled “the first suburban Chinatown” by sociologist Timothy Fong. While Chou found her upbringing to be typical of a suburban lifestyle, it was apparent that “my relationships and my interior life were drastically different from the lives I read about in books or watched on television, which reflected an idealized white suburbia.”
Despite the integral role Asian immigrants have played in the history of Southern California, their contributions and tribulations are often absent from mainstream accounts. Southern California owes much of its formative infrastructure, agriculture and economy to Asian pioneers, in particular the Chinese, who began to settle en masse after the discovery of gold in 1848.
The San Gabriel Valley remained a predominantly white region until the 1970s, whereby the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 abolished the quota system based on national origin, a residual policy of the previous Exclusion Acts. Today the San Gabriel Valley is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the United States and more than a quarter of the population are Asian American. According to the 2010 census, the largest populations of Asian Americans are Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Taiwanese and Japanese.
Through this series, which began in 2013, Chou grapples with the notion of the suburban landscape and how immigrant communities fit into that narrative.
Chou poses questions such as how does the narrative of the California ethos, the suburbs and the American Dream take shape within an Asian community that is largely disconnected or omitted from that history? What does it mean to maintain cultural heritage when it is absent from the physical landscape that it originates from?
For Chou, the intention of Suburban Chinatown is to provide a different entry point into American life for Asian immigrants, one that differs from common perceptions of Chinatowns and their residents. As Chou notes “oftentimes when we think of spaces like Chinatown, there is a timeless, exotic foreignness and otherness that tends to mimic what people want to see. It’s a physical container where Chinese immigrants go to pull themselves from their own bootstraps, work their way up to then shed their cultural identity as they enter the mainstream.”
Instead, Chou seeks to “extract clues in our environment that tell us who we are.” Chou captures subtle moments of Asian and American identities that help to define and shape the experience. This is shown in small details such as the use of color and stylistic twists in clothing or Chinese characters found on the walls of buildings. Or even a cactus – a symbol of the desert and Southern California – graffitied with Chinese and English writing, symbolizing how the immigrant community is settling its roots and grafting its way into the collective memory of the California landscape and American identity.
直到1970年代為止，聖蓋博谷一直是以白人為主的地區，1965年的《移民和國籍法案》廢除了從前《排華法案》遺留下來的國籍配額制度。 時至今日，聖蓋博谷是美國種族最多元化的地區之一，超過四分之一的人口是亞裔美國人。 根據2010年的人口普查，亞裔美國人口中的多數族群包含中國人、菲律賓人、越南人、韓國人，台灣人和日本人。
然而，Chou抱持著與此不同的觀點，她尋求「從我們的環境中提取出告訴我們自己我們是誰的線索」。Chou捕捉了亞裔和美籍身份的微妙時刻，這些時刻有助於定義和塑造亞裔經驗。 這一點在作品的細節上呈現得很清楚，例如人們身上衣服的顏色和風格上的微調變化或是在建築物外牆上發現的中文字。 甚至是仙人掌 – 沙漠和南加州的象徵 – 都用中文和英文塗鴉，這象徵著亞裔移民如何紮根，如何將自己的生存方式嫁接到對加州風土和美國身份認同的集體記憶中。
Jessica Chou is a photographer based in Los Angeles and San Francisco. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a degree in Middle East History. In her photographic work, Chou is interested in chronicling contemporary events that are shaping conversations around how we understand ourselves. She regularly contributes to publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, California Sunday Magazine, and Bloomberg Businessweek, among others. Chou’s work can also be found in the permanent collection of the Tweed Museum of Art, Duluth, Minnesota. Chou was born in 1985 in Taipei, Taiwan, and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles known as the San Gabriel Valley.
Jessica Chou是位居住在洛杉磯和舊金山的攝影師。 她畢業於加州大學洛杉磯分校的中東歷史學系。 在她的攝影作品中，Chou對記錄形塑與激發我們如何理解自我的對話和當代事件感興趣。 她經常為《紐約時報》、《大西洋》、《加州星期日雜誌》和《彭博商業周刊》等刊物拍攝報導。 Chou的作品也可以在明尼蘇達州杜盧斯的Tweed Museum of Art的永久收藏中找到。 Chou於1985年出生於台灣台北，在洛杉磯郊區的聖蓋博谷（San Gabriel Valley）長大。