Before 1776–Time to Break the Silence

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Although the racial injustices of Indigenous and Black communities are now commonly evoked and acknowledged, the anti-Asian violence that intensified during the pandemic is still not understood as a historically rooted form of racialization. Professor Tchen’s talk will link his prior work on New York before Chinatown, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the “Yellow Peril” with the scholarship of dispossession and enslavement. He will demonstrate that the foundational dynamics of settler colonialism formed the conditions around which all subsequent migrants built and shaped their lives, usually unbeknownst to them. Today, he will argue, we need to reckon with these realities through the memory work demanded of us to make sense of the interwoven present.

Jack Tchen is a historian, curator, writer, and dumpster diver devoted to anti-racist, anti-colonialist democratic participatory storytelling, scholarship, and opening up archives, museums, organizations, and classroom spaces to the stories and realities of those excluded and deemed “unfit” in master narratives. Professor Tchen has been honored to be the Inaugural Clement A Price Professor of Public History & Humanities at Rutgers University – Newark and Director of the Clement Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture & the Modern Experience, since fall 2018.

Professor Tchen’s extensive career as a public humanities scholar includes serving as the senior historian for a New-York Historical Society exhibition on the impact of Chinese Exclusion Laws on the formation of the US and also senior advisor for the two-hour “American Experience” PBS documentary on the “Chinese Exclusion Act.” His most recent book – Yellow Peril: An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear (2014) is a critical archival study of images, excerpts and essays on the history and contemporary impact of paranoia and xenophobia. In 1996, he founded the A/P/A (Asian/Pacific /American) Studies Program and Institute and research collections at New York University, where he worked closely with Jack G. Shaheen and brought in his research collection on anti-Arab representations in television and Hollywood. In 1980, he co-founded the Museum of Chinese in America.

Most recently, Professor Tchen has been engaged with the global warming crisis, eco justice, and the deep history of the region, founding the New York Newark Public History Project (of The Public History Project), funded by the Ford Foundation.