So Long, My Early Friends
Invested in the excavation of history, the preservation of traditions, and the retelling of collective memories, I visited places in rural parts of the American West in search of stories from early Chinese immigrants. I photographed at old mining sites where one can find hand-stacked rock walls made of mining tailings that locals call the “Chinese walls;” at unmarked burial grounds full of body-sized indentations; and in narrow alleyways comprised of temples, herb stores, gambling houses and Chinese schools that are now either turned into museums or being actively restored by small groups of volunteers, mostly non-Chinese. My encounters with these sites and stories on a land I still call foreign have been simultaneously strange and familiar. I seek to reflect on these complex narratives and temporalities in this project.
When I first started photographing my peers, I found myself tracing my subjects’ simultaneous recognition and rejection of their cultural heritage through moments of everyday life. I built a photographic archive of experiences shaped by the diverse immigrant communities, the liberal arts college environment, and the landscapes that are unique to the American West.
The discovery of another archive, one from Chinese immigrants who worked in gold mines and built the transcontinental railroad more than a hundred years ago, led me to investigate the place/displace-ment of their experiences on the map of America’s immigrant stories. By working with both abandoned sites and objects and living oral histories, I engage with notions of tradition, ownership, and collective memory. My work seeks to shed light on a personal journey and hence a hybrid narrative that emerges out of genealogies that are connected not by blood but through land.
Evelyn Hang Yin is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Los Angeles. Working with photography, video, text, and installation, Yin investigates how her personal experience moving between China and the U.S. informs her cultural identity. Her work is invested in issues of race, gender, history, place/displacement, and collective memory. Evelyn received a BA in Political Science and Media Studies from University of California, Berkeley and an MFA in Photography and Media from California Institute of the Arts. She was the Media and Production Fellow for Arts in a Changing America, and the Research and Archive Fellow for Hanford China Alley Preservation Society. She is a recipient of the Allan Sekula Social Documentary Fund and an alumna of the Signal Fire Wide Open Studios Program. She spoke at the 2019 Chinese American Women in History Conference in Washington D.C.
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