Installation Artist Explores History of Chinese Immigration

Posted on 06/09/2015 met with Rene Yung, a Bay Area artist who immigrated from Hong Kong at age 14. Her work seamlessly ties together question of identity and culture, while challenging the public to engage directly with the work and contemplate their relationship with the story the work tells.

See Yung’s work in person at The Art of Immigration, a celebration of Bay Area artists as part of Immigrant Heritage Month. Your work includes many different mediums. How do you describe your art?

Yung: My work has evolved over the years. The way I’m working now is really across different platforms. It includes installation art, which uses space and materials and concepts, and also social practice, which includes a significant amount of social engagement that brings people into the work as part of the process.

I began the installation work in the early 90’s. I’m interested in getting across a concept or an idea, as well as invoking emotion and creating a sense of awe and mystery. I found that working spatially allows me to do that – and my work increasingly became more culturally specific as I became more concerned about issues of culture and belonging.


I do very large drawings, and I was doing a number of drawing installations that have a central metaphor. A specific work is called “mountainriver.” It uses this idea of a seed both as a seed for new beginnings, and also the Greek meaning for diaspora – the scattering of seeds. I took fruit pits – we call them fruit stones – and I drew that at about 300 times their scale, and used the visual language of Chinese landscape painting, but rendering the topography of these seeds as landscapes. So, you see these worlds inside of the seeds. How has your Chinese heritage been incorporated into your work?

brick wall

I did another project about the Chinese who worked in the Boise Basin in Idaho, on the railroads and mines there. I had no idea there were Chinese in Idaho in the 19th century! At the time, Chinese made up more than 45% of the population in the Boise Basin. What happened to these people? Where did they go?


I created an installation of a brick wall made of soap, and each bar of soap is stamped with the word “REMEMBER.” The installation was built on a platform that was made from historic barn wood in the Boise Basin. So, who knows, maybe that barn wood had been part of the lives of these early Chinese immigrants who live there and then moved on. What I also came to realize as well is that as anti-Chinese sentiment became really virulent, Chinese were literally driven out of all parts of the country. So the “REMEMBER” part is ironic because these are bars of soap. The installation includes a washbasin, a stool, and towels with printed words of identity and memory – like “legal” or “illegal,” and “beloved.” So, as you use the towel, of course the word “REMEMBER” gets rubbed away, and the memory word on the towel also gets washed down and worn out.

Last fall, I launched a project called Chinese Whispers: Bay Chronicles, as part of my research about the maritime history of the Chinese. I was fascinated to find that the Chinese had an enormous shrimp fishery enterprise in San Francisco Bay in the late 19th century, and it continued all the way to the late 1950’s. It was completely decimated, for a number of factors, including strong anti-Chinese sentiment. You know, the Chinese Exclusion Act did not end until 1943. I partnered with San Francisco Maritime National Park last September and we did a research and art chronicling sailing expedition and sailed around the San Francisco Bay on a replicate 19th century Chinese junk [a kind of boat for shrimping] to former Chinese shrimp fishing sites. It was six days of sailing, with three public events. We had the junk armed to the teeth with cameras and recorders. We had mics, hydrophones, mics on the sails, GoPros on the masts… I did a very simple sound installation at San Francisco State earlier this year using some of these sounds. It was very exciting! As you explore so many different parts of the Chinese experience in the Bay Area and beyond, what would you describe the main goal of your work?

Yung: If I pull back the lens and describe my work, I would say I’m interested in making connections. In that regard, maybe I sound more like an entrepreneurs than an artist. My language sounds like design thinking. I’m asking: How can I draw things together, and make connections that other people don’t make? And then, how can I make those connections understandable and palpable for a very broad public?

To find out more about Rene Yung’s work visit her website here, or join us at The Art of Immigration on Thursday, June 11.

Letters to the Editor Help Show Support for Immigration Reform

Posted on 06/09/2015

This blog was written by Jash Sayani, a Silicon Valley chapter member. To find out more about writing your own letter to the editor in support of immigration reform, click here

My name is Jash, and I’m a software engineer living in the Bay Area. After graduating from the University of Utah, I moved to California to be in the heart of technological innovation. But I quickly had a problem – my work authorization was denied because I had applied for it 93 days prior to graduation, instead of applying the required 90 days prior to graduation.

I followed up by filing a petition to reconsider the decision, which was futile. I had to file another work authorization application, which took three months to get approved. Finally, several months after graduation and after paying a few thousand dollars in fees, I could work. This was a very frustrating experience, because bureaucracy was hindering innovation. So, I decided to get more involved with immigration reform and wrote a letter to the editor to the San Jose Mercury News.


The content of my letter mainly reflected my background and my perspective on the immigration system. I was born in India and lived there for several years. I have visited and lived in several countries, and I think of myself more as a “global citizen.” I love the diversity in the United States, and that’s why I decided to immigrate here. There are people from all over the world, with different backgrounds and different cultures, living in one place. I find that people from across the world come here to work on the biggest challenges in their fields and make a difference. However, the immigration system becomes a burden and makes it discouraging for bright people to live and work here.

Writing a letter to the editor was a way for me to express my experience and explain why immigration reform is important for me and for the country. Here is my letter to the editor:

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my support for comprehensive immigration reform. The United States is known as the land of opportunity. However, the immigration laws do not reflect that. The best doctors, engineers and scientists leave their countries and come to the United States to work on the biggest challenges in their fields, but have to devote a lot of time to immigration formalities.

The United States is a nation. As a nation, its main goals should be solving unemployment for its people and creating a better nation for its people. This is what dictates the economy. But immigrants have created the United States that we live in today. To receive an entrepreneur visa, it is required that the entrepreneur create 10 American jobs. Is that not solving the unemployment problem for its citizens? While the goal of every nation should be helping its own citizens first, immigration has led this country to where it is today and will keep it moving forward so other nations can learn from the United States.

To find out more about advocating for immigration reform, join your local chapter!


NYC Chef Wants To Challenge Your Tastebuds

Posted by Lucas Waldron on 06/05/2015

You’ve probably eaten at a Phở restaurant, or tried out a Bánh mì food truck, but Vietnamese chef Matt Le-Khac wants you to start tasting all of the delicious Vietnamese dishes you have been missing out on.

That’s why we’re partnering Immigrant Heritage Month to bring you Flavors of Home – a celebration of cuisine from different cultures. RSVP here to try Le-Khac’s recipes in person, mingle with some of New York’s best chefs, and celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month! Preview Le-Khac’s secrets below.

ML-K What cooking tips did you learn in your parent’s kitchen, or from another family member as a child?

Le-Khac: The scent that sends me back into Momma Le-Khac’s kitchen is the smell of charred onions.  It’s my ratatouille trigger. Charring onions and ginger along with spices like anise pods and cassia bark is quintessential to the heart of Vietnamese broths. How do you think Vietnamese food is perceived in the United States? What’s a common misconception?

Vietnamese food is at this beautiful threshold where the general populace is familiar enough with the popular dishes of the cuisine and ready dive deeper into the rabbit hole. The misconception is to relegate the entire cuisine just to Bánh mì and Phở when there are three dozen other popular dishes that all Vietnamese know and love.  As American eaters explore more and more dishes, the one commonality that would surface is the essentialness of the herb plate.  Any dish in the Vietnamese canon is literally just an excuse for an eater to garnish a variety of these amazingly fresh herbs on top.  The Vietnamese table behaves more like a kitchen counter than the plate-ready fashion of the American restaurant table.  A Vietnamese table whether at a restaurant or home is a frenzy of movement ranging from wrapping, garnishing, mixing–all intermingling with gossiping, laughter and exclamations of deliciousness. What’s a dish that you hate – Vietnamese or otherwise – and why?

Le-Khac: Poutine. A good fry is like the bones of a pizza: beautiful crispy crust on the outside and nice, moist and fluffy on the inside.  Why do you spend all this effort double frying to make this wonderfully crisp fry, all in order to destroy this beautiful textural contrast by drenching it in gravy and turning it into a sopping mess? Throw some curds on mash potatoes and save yourself the trouble. Maybe it’s a sadistic thing – to see something beautiful be destroyed.

Bún bò Huế

A bowl of Bún bò Huế. Image: What dish do you make the absolute best?

Bún bò Huế: the bigger, bolder, fiery brother of Beef Phở. Born from the culinary heart of Vietnam, Huế; it ups the ante on Phở by adding a golden ratio of pork and beef bones, simmered for days.  A perfect bite of anything should exhilarate all your tastes senses. Umami from slow simmered bones, citrus from lemongrass, a deep sweetness from rock sugar and fresh daikon, savoriness from fish sauce, slight bitter freshness from shaved banana flower and fiery heat from the chili paste.  It’s sad for me to hear that when other Viet restaurants in the city put this dish on the menu, only three customers try this deserving dish a week. These numbers can’t justify the cost of keeping it on the menu.  We sell a couple hundred a week at Ăn Chơi, I credit this to my mother’s recipe for the chili paste which is the essence of this dish.  If I and other chefs push hard enough, one day it will be more popular than Phở – where it belongs.  A good execution of the Bún bò Huế can’t push it alone, it also takes the open mind of the customer for this to happen.

Join Le-Khac and for the Flavors of Home celebration by RSVPing here.