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Dorcas Tang ’19 Explores Diaspora in Photography Exhibition

Dorcas Tang '19 in front of framed photographs

While interning in Costa Rica, Dorcas Tang ’19, a studio art major and double minor in Spanish and educational studies from Malaysia, realized she knew little about the Chinese diaspora in Latin America. This interest fueled her to research the topic, which culminated in the photography exhibition Los Paisanos del Puerto: Living Narratives of the Chinese Diaspora Community in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

The exhibition, which was funded by the Genevieve Ching-Wen Lee Grant, will be on display in the Cratsley Lounge of McCabe Library through April 30. Tang will discuss her exhibit at 4:30 p.m. April 18 in the Atrium of McCabe. Along with the grant, sponsors include the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility and Swarthmore College Libraries.

Tang, a third-generation Chinese Malaysian, felt strongly connected to the descendants of Chinese immigrants residing in Puntarenas. Throughout her seven-week research trip, she conversed with residents and documented their stories. Tang felt especially close to her host grandmother, Flora, with whom Tang engaged in Tuesday gatherings of shared food and community along with Flora’s family and friends.

For the exhibit, Tang put together photos and legal documents that focus on the life of the descendants of Chinese immigrants who arrived in Latin America between 1855 and 1955. She also interviewed and photographed many residents, including Maritza, a child of the diaspora whose family encountered harassment and discrimination. Their experience with prejudice resonated with Tang, who noted that she, too, has been “othered.”

Tang says she struggled to navigate the same identity quandaries that others in the Chinese and Latinx community have experienced. 

“In a sense, this project has also been about myself and grappling with this identity,” she says. “Moreover, in the United States, the mainstream narrative of Asian American tends to be Chinese American. I don’t see myself and my family’s histories represented in these studies.

“Thus, through my lens, I wanted to explore lesser-known diaspora narratives and question what it means to belong,” she adds. “For the community I documented, it was important to them that their stories be visibilized. It was a way that the beauty of their stories, previously unheard, were finally being validated.”


Registro de chinos from 1922



Las tías del quilting, a group of friends that reunite each Thursday to quilt and make har gao, a type of Chinese dumpling.

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