Anomaly in the Veil
The Chinese Exclusion Act 1882-1943
The Angel Island Immigration Station Center was a place that Chinese immigrants were interned and interrogated from 1910-1940. The women I have chosen to honor were amongst those who faced uncertainty, fear and humiliation there.
An art installation intended to create a visual rift in the veil of silence and secrecy that still surrounds the Chinese women immigrants who suffered the internment and interrogations on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay between 1910 and 1940.
The focus of the installation is an evolving series of interpretive "mug shot" portraits of these Chinese women. Also included is a growing number of items evocative of the times, such as poetry, interrogation transcripts, books, photographs, etc.
Anomaly in the Veil is an homage by Cynthia Tom to women whose lives, more often than not, were never theirs to realize. She has been working for the last 3 years to unveil the faces of these women, whose oppression was due to generational factors, cultural mores, human greed, or simply gender. Her paintings poignantly coax the silent histories of these women from behind the veil to set up house and linger in our hearts.
Following an 1998 exhibition titled Hom Shee Mock 1923, (the first painting in the series is based on the Cynthia's grandmother's mug shot) Cynthia's mother Sue wrote a letter expressing relief that finally her mother was allowed to show sadness and a little anger. Up until that time, Sue and her siblings kept up a silent façade that their mother led a happy life. After years of unexpressed pain, it was a release for Cynthia's mother and the beginning of forgiveness and a deeper understanding of her life.
While she worked on Hom Shee Mock, 1923, Cynthia lived intimately with her grandmother's mug shot and interrogation transcripts, reading them over and over again. It was a painful and deeply moving experience. A language barrier and family issues kept Cynthia and her grandmother from ever speaking while Hom Shee Mock was alive, but the interrogation transcripts provided a means for Cynthia to get to know her grandmother after Hom Shee Mock's death.
"Q. Did you have a banquet for your wedding.
A.Yes. B.Q. Did you eat at this banquet? A.No B.Q. What did you do? C.A. I served wine to my husband's friends."
This experience compelled Cynthia to seek out more information and speak to other Chinese Americans who share this sub-cultural experience. Three women especially inspired Cynthia in her quest: Her mother, Sue Tom, who found her voice and her power as a female, and provided a safe place for Cynthia to pose questions and wonder about the past and its implications; Flo Oy Wong, who created "made in u.s.a.: Angel Island shhh", an exhibition exposing the secrets the Chinese "paper people" had to tell to enter the U.S.; and Judy Yung, a professor from U.C. Santa Cruz who has published some of the only books dedicated to information about the Angel Island Chinese Immigration experience and Chinese women in particular, Unbound Feet and Unbound Voices.
These women have strengthened Cynthia's commitment to keep developing the Anomaly In the Veil series, and to encourage an ongoing discussion exploring the resonance of the these experiences on generations to come.