Last week I got to visit the exhibition: SUB URBANISMS: Casino Urbanization, Chinatowns, and the Contested American Landscape at the Museum of Chinese in America together with its curator Stephen Fan. The show, based on Stephens research, site visits and interviews over several years, starts off with tracing the casino industry in the United States with a focus on Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, a 2.5 hour drive from New York.
The glaring casino complex towers over the suburban landscape. But the show takes a closer look at how the casino changed suburbia in more subtle ways. in the wake of 9/11 many garment factories in Chinatown in Manhattan closed its doors forcing Chinese to look for other job opportunities. Opened in 1996 and renovated in 2001, Mohegan Sun offered jobs and its surrounding suburbs housing to a workforce of Chinese employees that constitute about 20% of the total workforce. This is about equal to the percentage of Chinese patrons to the casino, who frequently come in buses departing directly from Chinatowns in Boston, New York and other areas in the northeast.
Map of Casinos across the United States
From front lawns converted into vegetable gardens to ranch houses that have been retrofitted to accommodate multiple adults as opposed to the typical suburban nuclear family, Stephen documented the little nuances through which we can detect transplanted cultural values. In doing so, immigrants challenge the norms of suburban living. For instance, many Chinese casino workers walk to work through a landscape without sidewalks or pedestrian crossings. They prefer the activity and fresh air, even when they can afford a car.
Floorplans of ranch house showing additional subdivisions to accommodate more people.
The show is up until March 27th and will likely travel to other places in the next to years. Stephen also edited the book with the same name published by the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, CT, where the show was first exhibited -–closer to home for the subjects of his research. Here is a brochure that was published as part of the Exhibit at MOCA.
all images from Stephen Fan.