China-US / People

Queens native takes the helm at MOCA

By Jack Freifelder in New York (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-03-20 12:16

Queens native takes the helm at MOCA

Nancy Yao Maasbach is president of Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). Jack Freifelder / China Daily

Taking a leadership role at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) in New York's Chinatown might seem daunting, but Nancy Yao Maasbach, MOCA's president, said it's a move that has roots in her childhood.

"We lived in Flushing when Flushing was predominantly Italian, Jewish, and German," she said in an interview. "Every weekend we traveled to Chinatown to shop and dine. Despite the fact that we did not speak Cantonese - the dominant dialect in Chinatown - we felt welcomed by the community."

Maasbach, whose mother hailed from Northern China while her father was a Shanghai transplant to the United States, was born and raised with her older brother in Flushing, Queens.

"We were one of just a handful of Chinese families in Flushing when I was raised in the 1970s and 1980s," she said. "At that time, New York City really had one Chinatown, this one here in Lower Manhattan. The ones in Sunset Park (Brooklyn) and in Flushing really did not exist.

Maasbach said she was first introduced to MOCA when it opened at 70 Mulberry Street in 1980. The museum has since relocated its main galleries to a new, larger space at 215 Centre Street.

"My mother was very active in the Chinese community, and familiar with MOCA's opening in 1979/1980," she said. "She worked downstairs at the Chinatown Manpower Project, which was housed in the same building as the Chinatown History Project (which would become MOCA).

"My extended family is delighted that I am now at MOCA," she said. "They have all maintained a keen interest and devotion to US-China relations. So I feel a real kinship with the museum having grown up with it."

MOCA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the documentation of the Chinese experience in America. It first began as a community-based organization known as the New York Chinatown History Project.

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