Chinatown Abecedario: A Folk Taxonomy of L.A.’s Chinatown

HD animated video with voiceovers in English, Cantonese, Spanish, and Mandarin, 14 min. running time, 2012

“In deconstructing Chinatown’s shrouded myths and histories, perhaps it is not necessary to dwell on their origins, nor how and why they function. Rather, the answer may lie in examining the systems in which people learn and disseminate information about the community, as Audrey Chan suggests. Through her video installation, Chinatown Abecedario: A Folk Taxonomy of L.A.’s Chinatown, Chan explores, appropriates, and ultimately undermines these systems of knowledge. As an aspiring urban folk taxonomist, she views Chinatown through the science of vernacular naming systems people use to give meaning and order to their surroundings and experiences. Chan’s perspective is influenced by Émile Durkheim and Claude Lévi-Strauss, who propose that the process of learning draws upon the knowledge and beliefs within a local culture, thereby creating a set of ideas that are passed on within a community. Chan’s Chinatown Abecedario presents twenty-six vignettes about Chinatown, structured after the English alphabet, with Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin translations. These vignettes combine disparate elements associated with Chinatown, often teasing out the absurdities where the imagined becomes real and where hybridity becomes known.” —Steve Wong, Curator, Chinese American Museum