Monday, February 4, 2008

How to Turn Jury Duty into a Holiday! (Part One)

Two days on jury duty last week. I have to admit, I had a great time. It’s really changed since the last time I was there. It’s a lot cleaner now – there are snack machines and a cafeteria, so you don’t have to leave the building just to get a cup of coffee anymore. They’ve gotten rid of all the old ashtrays and weird signage. There’s wi-fi in the jury rooms, and state-provided laptops so you can check your email. There’s another room for eating and drinking, but they have it outfitted with a PA system, so you can hear what’s going on if they call your name.

First day of jury duty, I was down there at 8:30 AM. We got the shpiel, and settled in with New Yorkers and newspapers. Broke for lunch at 12:00, and I made a beeline for Baxter Street, to that Vietnamese place I liked so much when I was on grand jury several years ago. It's called Nha Trang, and you can't beat it for lunch in that area. Had barbecued beef and rice, and that great French coffee with the sweetened condensed milk.

Then went to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. I told the girl there the Factory was the best part of jury duty, and she gave me a card and told me how to order ice cream and t-shirts online. I got a double scoop – green tea and red bean. Walked over to Columbus Park. They’ve finished fixing the pavilion there, so you can go up and look around. They’ve also finished what looks like a nice soccer field – I could see it from the 15th Floor of 100 Centre Street near the elevator bank.

I didn’t see the old men playing dominoes and smoking though. Guess they’ve all died. They would sit down there, smoking and slamming those big Chinese dominoes on the stone tables. The language always sounded angry to me, but of course they could have been saying, “I’ve loved you all my life! Let’s always be in this park playing dominoes! Kiss me!”

Then, I went to 70 Mulberry Street, a big old converted school building, to the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas. Very interesting – old life insurance policies, pictures of all-Chinese baseball teams in Echo Park, Los Angeles, old costumes from the previous tenants of the building, the Chinese Musical and Theatrical Association.

Fascinating history. When the US sealed its borders against the Chinese, it begat a widespread fraud known as ‘paper sons.’ A Chinese person could not immigrate here, but by that time the Supreme Court had established that someone born in this country – even someone who had two Chinese parents - was still a citizen. So, fraudulent papers could be bought and sold, where it named someone as a ‘son’ who had been born here of Chinese parentage, even if they were just off the boat from Shanghai.

The bigotry the Chinese suffered in this country was pretty pronounced. (They look different!) Immigration restrictions did not work. They just forced people underground, and into decisions where survival meant adopting criminal behavior. Wish all these Minutemen- no 'amnesty'/no 'sanctuary city' – anti- immigration blowhards could spend a half hour at MOCA.

Exhibition-wise, MOCA leaves something to be desired. It's a really cramped space. I’m sure they must have other things, but it looks as if there is no place to put them. The Chinese opera costumes looked to be in desperate need of restoration and conservation.

Chinatown looks like it's having quite the boom - new real estate development, huge banks that weren't there a few years ago. Makes me wonder why the money in that area isn't stepping up to the plate to preserve that history.

2 comments:

cboatner said...

Enjoyed your post, you are to be commended for describing the Chinese "paper sons", this is a oft-ignored institution of the Chinese imigration episode.

David Johnston said...

Thanks!