Chinese Pioneers: Power and Politics in Exclusion Era Photographs
The exhibit began in the Gold Rush era, when significant numbers of Chinese people began to arrive in California. Anti-Chinese sentiment led to protests, violence, and vigilante expulsions up and down the West Coast. The Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese laborers from immigrating, becoming citizens, and tightened restrictions on previous residents reentering the country. It is against this backdrop that the exhibit considered the broad range of nineteenth-century imagery depicting the first generations of Chinese Californians and how visual culture influenced, aligned with, and diverged from the politics of Exclusion and the actions of the state.
Featured in the exhibit were examples of how different types of photography (studio portraits, street photography, and surveillance) reflect different facets of the Chinese experience. While studio portraits presented a dignified image of the subject, street photography highlighted the unequal social relations that existed between the Chinese and non-Chinese populations. Government headshots were used as a tool in the suppression, surveillance, and criminalization of Chinese residents through systems of registration and identification. Together, these varying styles of photography shaped the perception of the Chinese in the Exclusion Era years.
In addition, IVDM added information to the Exhibit related to the Chinese-American and Chinese-Mexican communities in El Centro and Mexicali during this era.
Chinese Pioneers is an exhibit by the California Historical Society and touring through Exhibit Envoy. Institutional support provided by San Francisco Grants for the Arts and Yerba Buena Community Benefit District. The Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation supported the first 6 bookings of this exhibition.
About the California Historical Society:
The California Historical Society (CHS), the official state historical society of California, has been collecting, sharing, and honoring the extraordinarily diverse stories from throughout the state for 150 years. Headquartered in San Francisco with support from California Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, San Francisco Grants for the Arts, Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, and all of its donors and members across the state, the nonprofit organization works statewide to inspire and empower people to make California’s past a meaningful part of their contemporary lives.
At Exhibit Envoy:
Exhibit Envoy provides traveling exhibitions and professional services to museums throughout California. For more information, visit www.exhibitenvoy.org.
Kumeyaay Cosmology (Maay Uuyow: Sky Knowledge)
Many of the constellations we know and gaze upon today, were also observed by the Kumeyaay. While the grouping and patterns of the stars are ones we would recognize, the Kumeyaay named and identified them differently. These constellations represent important lessons to the Kumeyaay and serve as visual reminders of greater wisdom that extends beyond the earthly shell. They were also used as moral and ethical guides, divided into groups such as the Watchers and Deliverers of Punishment.
Today, evidence of Kumeyaay cosmology is ever present in the landscape of Imperial Valley. Incorporated into earthen arts such geoglyphs, pictographs, and petroglyphs, and even painted onto pottery, the practice of observing the night sky played an important role in Kumeyaay beliefs and traditions.
In celebration of the Kumeyaay’s recognition and special connection to meteors, IVDM celebrated the Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower through our Summer Stargazing Event on Friday July 29, 2022.
To learn more about this tradition and its continued importance, read Michael Connolly Miskwish’s book Maay Uuyow: Kumeyaay Cosmology.
The 'Evolving Traditions' exhibit is one that is on display year-round, but IVDM rotates the objects on display to mirror the evolution and revival of local Kumeyaay traditions. We are always interested in working with our local communities and we are lucky enough to have collaborated with Kumeyaay artists and entrepreneurs that have helped educate us on these local traditions.
While it might seem strange that seashells can be found throughout Imperial Valley, the Valley used to be completely submerged by the Gulf of California and Ancient Lake Cahuilla!
Today we might collect a seashell because it's fun to do so, but the Kumeyaay had more practical reasons. Between eating the shellfish and crafting the remaining shells, the Kumeyaay used every part of the organism to help them survive in the Desert! Shell tools like the 'Hook Shell' were used to catch fish in Ancient Lake Cahuilla, whereas spiral shells were the perfect implements to be shaped into jewelry like these 'Olivella Bead-Necklaces! These necklaces and other shell jewelry became major staples in the Kumeyaay trade economy.
Lost and Returned, Kumeyaay Baskets of McCain Valley
The Kumeyaay nation is comprised of many tribes that stretch from as far East as modern day Yuma, as North as Oceanside, and as South as Ensenada. To be able to traverse these great distances, the Kumeyaay were semi-nomadic and thus needed ways to carry their supplies. While they were masterful potters, Ollas were often too heavy for long trips, so for hundreds of years, woven baskets became widely used as storage containers.
Once the Spanish arrived in the 1700's, the Kumeyaay were forced to craft these baskets as a source of industry and income. This continued throughout the Spanish occupation and even while American ranchers moved into the region. This exhibit showcases objects that were all returned from the McCain Valley which is only 30 miles West of the museum. While still being practical to use and store objects within, the more complicated designs on these baskets highlight the immense talent and patience of the women who crafted them.
Life Along the Border
Intended to provide a neutral and balanced narrative, Life Along The Border features 41 photographs divided into four sections, touching on various aspects that affect the lives of people living along the border. These include difficulties many people face in Mexico and possible motivations they may have in wanting to immigrate to the US, as well as capturing the lives of immigrants choosing to live in the US and redefining what it means to be an American.
The Impossible Railroad
The impossible railroad has been part of the Imperial Valley for about 100 years. While the railroad was officially finished on Nov. 15, 1919; however, only parts of it have been open since hurricane Kathleen in 1976 which completely devastated the railroad. The impossible railroad used to carry freight and passengers from San Diego to Yuma making stops in Calexico. Generating enormous amounts of revenue and making San Diego the main port in the area, while it was open, instead of Los Angeles. The railroad had many hurdles during construction all being caused by the land of extremes and its intense conditions in the mountain passes and the desert.