Exhibit Review: Letters to Hop Alley

Letters to Hop Alley was phenomenal. Anya and Georgia did an amazing job of creating an exhibit that was both artistic and historical, emotionally evocative and well-researched, humanizing and soul-searching. Reading the small red cursive print forced me to really pay attention to its words, reminded me of history exhibits with old loopy words scrawled on faded letters, and made me narrate experiences of Chinese people seeking refuge from the violence of the West by fleeing to the Midwest, working hard to make homes and communities where they were, being brutalized and targeted by police with the justification that they were drug users and gang members (all of them), exotically fetishized as desirable while being labeled by policies as undesirable, erased in the name of development, having their homes and communities labeled as slums to justify the “headache ball” that would destroy them and erect Busch Stadium in its place, a tribute to the moneyed white developers who would line their pockets with cash gleaned from taxpayers and game attendees alike.
My body’s response to gazing upon the images and words in the gallery and reliving and reimagining places in St. Louis in like of those recalled memories that I had never known, and resurrecting the lives that had gone before was a strange warmness. Like my heart was being drawn to these memories and wanting to blink my eyes with tears while wanting to keep my eyes wide open to take it all in as a witness, a witness to the past. Like I was traveling through the past and communing with ghosts.
I was convicted, in particular by the words that reminded and taught me that it is a misconception that Asians are rare in the Midwest, that they have been here (partly due to brutality, abuse, and lynching that drove them away from the West) and have always been here. My school never taught me. My parents were immigrants. I grew up on the West Coast. I came to St. Louis and saw Asians as international students at WashU and went to a mostly white seminary as the only Asian American in my class. I didn’t know. I couldn’t know.
I think about how I got annoyed whenever clients talked about how much they loved Chinese food because it was not the Chinese food I recognized. Orange chicken, St. Paul sandwich, and egg foo young were not things I ever experienced and they didn’t sound “authentic” to me, even though, as a Taiwanese American and not a Chinese American, I am hardly in a position to judge. And now I realize that they were markers of what was cooked and sold by people who were trying to make a living in the Midwest (I think, I have no idea about their origins). I’m remembering how the stadium just created a policy saying no signs or banners that they don’t agree with, which sounds to me like a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement that has unashamedly disrupted stadium activities in order to call white St. Louis to account for the brutality and death inflicted upon black St. Louis. Chinese were criminalized and displaced to make room for the stadium (reaching an apex in the 60s no less). Not to mention the bohemian community and another black community nearby. Blacks can’t belong at the stadium as people with rights, only as pacified consumers. The stadium is a monument to white supremacy. The transit I ride every day, a reminder of white supremacy, because mainly, only working class people ride it, until games, when white people take over (Metro only, not the buses) and crowd it so that all the seats are taken and filled with red shirts. And going only in the directions East-West and not North-South, so explicitly to serve whites going downtown for games, and not actually for workers.
And now spending at least $1 bil of taxpayer money on a Rams stadium to keep a team that doesn’t want to stay, when our schools are hurting, food deserts still exist, redlining hasn’t been corrected, and justice for Black St. Louisans is still not being served. On top of an Osage burial ground.
White supremacy and white greed will swallow us alive if we don’t stand against it. Sign this petition for $1 bil to go to the needs of the people, and not wealthy white supremacists that have already destroyed St. Louis communities. http://www.powerbehindthepolice.com/justicefund (Side note: this editorial from last year said $1 bil doesn’t grow on trees so transit expansion proposal had poor timing – http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/the-platform/editorial-north-south-metrolink-expansion-could-help-rebuild-st-louis/article_4753a174-1c33-5dfa-8366-43a260f99e3a.html – because of stadium proposal, I call BS.)
In short, if you love me and love St. Louis, you will go to this art exhibit, which runs through September, and you will sign MORE’s petition for $1 bil to go to worthy causes, not neglecting our communities while lining the pockets of developers who displace people.

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