Lives of ‘Mississippi Delta Chinese’ Documented in Photos

Photographers Andrew Kung (left) and Emanuel Hahn at their Pearl River Mart exhibition, “The Mississippi Delta Chinese.” (Photo by Chunxiang Jin via World Journal)

The Mississippi Delta has long been known as a piece of land shared mainly by white and black people. Few know that Chinese immigrants have been living there for more than a century, and the community is quite established with many organizations that bring locals together. Their story can now be seen at an exhibition at the art gallery of the Pearl River Mart in Manhattan, thanks to two photographers who were determined to document the little-known life of Mississippi Chinese with their cameras.

The photographers, Emanuel Hahn and Andrew Kung, decided to work together last year to document the life of Chinese living in the South. After four months of research, they decided to focus their lens on Mississippi. The two spent a whole week there to profile 16 people. Fifty-five of the photos are displayed in the gallery.      

Hahn and Kung both grew up in predominantly Asian neighborhoods. They both studied business in college and joined tech companies after graduation. And they both quit their jobs after a few years to become full-time photographers. The two got to know each other in New York last year. Once while chatting, Kung mentioned that his parents met in the Southern U.S. and had lived in South Carolina in the 1970s. From there, the two young men were inspired and decided to go to the South to document the life of Asians in the area.

Photos from “The Mississippi Delta Chinese” exhibition. (Photo by Chunxiang Jin via World Journal)

They spent the following four months contacting 75 Asian organizations in the South. Eventually a retired librarian in Mississippi agreed to help them contact Chinese immigrants there.   

Last October, the two photographers went to Mississippi. In a week’s time, they interviewed 16 Chinese to learn their stories and followed them to shoot photos. Hahn, who was born in Saipan, and lived in Korea, Singapore and Cambodia thanks to his missionary parents, is used to diverse cultures. But he said he still found the Southern accent challenging [to understand] when he had just arrived in Mississippi.  

Hahn said Chinese immigrants first landed in the Delta after the Civil War. Many of them worked on the plantations. In the early 20th century, with a few dozen Chinese-run groceries springing up in the area, the population of Chinese started to grow. He said many of the older generation Chinese encountered discrimination. They used to be prohibited from entering some public facilities and white-only public schools. (…)

The photographers said the Chinese immigrants in Mississippi are aging quickly. Many in the younger generation moved out in the 1970s and 1980s. But there are still more than a thousand Chinese living there including those who run grocery shops and professionals in the aviation industry. Their stories are worth being told.

The exhibition will run through July 7. The address of the gallery is 395 Broadway, inside the Pearl River Mart.

Hear more from Hahn and Kung, and see some of their photos from the Mississippi Delta, in this video from SinoVision English Channel:

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