Within Chinese America, there are families who lived in Latin America before immigrating to the U.S. and were part of migrations of peoples from the region who sought to escape political turmoil or pursue educational and economic opportunity. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month and the diversity of Chinese American experiences, we highlight a brief clip of an oral history with one such individual.
Leonard Liao was one of the first Asian American hip hop artists and the second generation proprietor of the Chinese Cuban fusion restaurant Mi Estrella in Jackson Heights, Queens. Though born and raised in Chinatown and Flushing during the 1970s and 1980s, Liao grew up eating Latino as well as Chinese food and was influenced by both cultures due to his father’s and grandfather’s roots in Cuba. His mixed cultural influences are evident in the flavors and dishes he describes as served in the family restaurant. In this particular video clip, Liao recounts his family’s immigration history, from his maternal great grandfather’s arrival in the U.S. during the time of the building of the transcontinental railroad to his father’s escape from the Japanese and communism in China to Cuba (a gam san or “gold mountain” in this era), only to lose it all and start over again in the United States after the rise of Castro.
His engaging oral history interview can be listened to in full on MOCA’s oral history digital platform here.
In 1998, MOCA sought to capture and share the stories of additional chino latino families in an oral history project for the joint exhibition with the Bronx Museum of the Arts, “Mi Familia, Mi Communidad,” digitized and accessible on MOCA’s oral history platform here. The digitization of MOCA’s collection of over 600 oral histories, conducted over the course of the museum’s more than 40-year history, is an ongoing effort made possible by current grant funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).