With an estimated population of 100,000 people, Manhattan’s Chinatown is one of the oldest ethnic Chinese enclaves outside of Asia and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. One of nine Chinatown neighborhoods in New York City, Chinatown was primarily populated by Cantonese speakers until the 1980s when large numbers of Chinese Min Dong-speaking immigrants also arrived. As many Min Dong and Cantonese speakers now speak Mandarin—the official dialect of Chinese—in addition to native dialects, the primary tongue heard and displayed throughout the neighborhood is Mandarin, which happens to be one of the four language courses available for study at York Prep.
On February 8, the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, a handful of York Prep Mandarin students took a field trip where they witnessed this first hand. Assistant to the Deans and Mandarin teacher Ms. Qiawen (Wendy) Jin took her 10th grade Mandarin students to Chinatown to experience the New Year’s spirit. While exploring this iconic lower Manhattan neighborhood, the class also visited the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) located at 215 Centre Street, between Howard and Grand Streets. Typically closed on Mondays, the museum opened its doors to visitors on this very special holiday to celebrate the beginning of a new lunar year.
Founded in 1980, MOCA has been dedicated to preserving and presenting the history, heritage, culture and diverse experiences of people of Chinese descent in the United States. The Museum has promoted understanding among people of all backgrounds, bringing 160 years of Chinese American history to life through innovative exhibits and cultural programs. MOCA has amassed a nationally-significant collection of materials documenting Chinese life in America—from its humble beginnings in the 19th century to its dynamic presence today. Current exhibits include With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America, Chinese Style: Rediscovering the Architecture of Poy Gum Lee 1923-1968, and SUB URBANISMS: Casino Urbanization, Chinatowns, and the Contested American Landscape. Seeing these exhibitions provided our students with an ideal opportunity to step away from vocabulary and characters to experience the culture and people that make up the language they have so ardently studied.