Many True Stories: Life in Chinatown On and After September 11th

As residents of Chinatown, students from the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Middle School 131 Oral History Club experienced firsthand the impact that September 11th had on their community and wanted a way to candidly capture the events and its aftermath without having to rely on second-hand sources that glossed-over or excluded their neighborhood. In collaboration with the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), the students and their advisor, Stacey Fell-Eisenkraft, set out to interview and document a community that on the surface shared a common grief, but whose individual members dealt with the tragedy in very disparate ways. The MS 131 Oral History Club and MOCA present this poignant collection of first-hand accounts in an installation titled Many True Stories: Life in Chinatown On and After September 11th

Told with raw emotion and great honesty, the stories presented in Many True Stories retrace the events from the perspectives of those who work and live in Chinatown. Included in the exhibit are interview recordings, photographs and artifacts that students collected over a semester. Additional interviews are included in memory books that are organized by reoccurring themes and that offer visitors a forum to share their own stories. Topics include, Losing Jobs, Emergency Money and Showing I.D.; Air Quality; My Family; Loss; and War.

The MS 131 Oral History Club began as a part of the Columbia University Oral History Research Office's Telling Lives Project, which uses oral history to help communities heal from the tragic events of 9/11. A model project to enhance the educational experience of public school students in New York City, the Oral History Club aims to introduce students to the principles and techniques of oral history, and enable them to document their community and their own life experiences. Using oral history methods, the students discovered a more intimate and beneficial approach to learning history than those offered in traditional pedagogical curriculums.

One student, Ma Li Chen, reflects positively on her experience working on Many True Stories, saying, "The oral history project is fun. It's interesting. I learned a lot of things doing the oral history project. I got to learn to work in small groups and wasn't shy like I was in the big class."

Stacey Fell-Eisenkraft praises the work of the young historians, saying, "I'm impressed by how hard the students have worked and how seriously they collaborated with the Museum of Chinese in America. During their interviews, they really tried to ask questions that invited a range of perspectives and stories."

The collection of narratives, videos, and photos will be kept as a permanent resource in the MoCA Archives. Many True Stories: Life in Chinatown On and After September 11th opened on May 15, 2004 at the Museum of Chinese in America.