History

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is the leading museum dedicated to reclaiming, preserving and presenting the history and culture of Chinese people in the United States. Through its thought-provoking exhibits and programs, MOCA encourages dialogue among people of all cultural backgrounds.

After more than 30 years of collecting artifacts, archival and library materials, we are proud to be stewards of one of the most important national archives of materials about Chinese life in America. From rare papers to priceless artifacts, we hold many unusual and unique items indispensable for understanding this contemporary history.

MOCA began as a community-based organization founded in 1980 by Jack Tchen and Charlie Lai and Chinese American artists, historians and students who felt that the memories of first-generation "old-timers" would be lost without oral history, photo documentation, research, and collecting efforts. Now a focal point of the community's cultural life, the Museum has evolved into not only the keeper of the community's documented history, but the community's cultural history as well.

MOCA was located downtown in the heart of Manhattan's Chinatown on the second floor of the historic, century-old school building that was once Public School 23. Opened in November 1, 1893, and closing almost exactly 83 years later in October 1976, Public School 23 was built during the great tides of reform activity of the late 19th century, as New York struggled to educate the new waves of immigrants entering the city. As Chinatown continues to recover from the events of September 11th, MOCA envisions itself to be the cultural and historical cornerstone, curator, educator, exhibitor and research center of not only Manhattan's Chinatown, but for all Chinese of many nationalities located in America.

Exploring Chinese America within the context of American history and culture, the Museum of Chinese in America gathers and documents the personal stories of Chinese Americans, communicating their traditions, struggles and achievements. MOCA traces the many places of origin of Chinese Americans and their connections to families and homelands throughout the world.

In 2009, MOCA moved to 215 Centre Street, situated between Chinatown and SoHo.  The stunning new site – designed by long-time supporter and renowned artist/designer Maya Lin – increases the Museum’s total size six-fold (when combined with MOCA’s present space) and enables it to serve as a true national center presenting the Chinese American story as an integral part of the American story.  It honors the memories, struggles, contributions and legacies of Chinese Americans, helping to bridge the old and the new, the past and the present. 

MOCA is committed to presenting engaging and accessible, quality exhibitions and programs for people of all ages in its own facilities, in traveling exhibitions and online, and to challenging stereotypes and tackling difficult and complex issues, both historical and contemporary.

MOCA aims to engage visitors in an ongoing and historical dialogue, in which people of all backgrounds are able to see American history through a critical perspective, to reflect on their own experiences, and to make meaningful connections between: the past and the present, the global and the local, themselves and others.