An Illustrated Timeline of Chinese Immigration to the US Illuminates a History of Xenophobia

SANTA CRUZ — Over at our friendly neighborhood art museum, graphic novelist and intrepid world explorer Tessa Hulls has created a gallery-sized comic book. Her show, titled Guided by Ghosts at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH), is a riot of images, texts, objects, and colors.

As with comics, Hulls refutes neat lines and white space. She crowds together her words and drawings to pack a gut punch of frenetic energy into every corner and around every curve. I couldn’t capture an image without the intrusion of another image or fragment. Everything in the exhibit, past and present, is connected.

In eerie phosphorescent lighting, Hulls has plastered a wall-to-wall timeline of Chinese immigration to the United States beginning in the 1500s. The timeline is a clever highlight reel documenting systemic racism in both English and Spanish, illustrated with meticulously rendered watercolors that punctuate the disturbing historical events. Hulls also constructed a color-coded key to organize the three main themes: aqua for “Monterey Bay Region,” maroon for “Tessa’s Story,” and corn yellow for “National/International.”

Hulls zooms in on the creation of Chinatowns, specifically in Santa Cruz and Watsonville. Chinatowns act as living monuments to the fortitude and industriousness of Chinese immigrants. Scattered about are handmade remnants of agricultural workers: pottery encased in glass, a basket suspended near the ceiling. Hulls emphasizes that Chinatowns are the legacy of deeply embedded racism, rooted in local, state, and federal laws, then reinforced by Supreme Court rulings. White voters and politicians systematically restricted those with Chinese ancestry from home ownership and rentals beyond a few limited city blocks until they were forced to build Chinatowns.

By Serena W. Lin for HYPERALLERGIC

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