Recent visitors to Chinatown's narrow Ross Alley will have noticed its new illumination: rippling LED lights shine on the ground, mimicking ocean waves along the length of its path. But the luminescence serves as more than a practical solution to the dimly-lit thoroughfare. It also transforms a short walk down this alley into a glimpse of Chinatown's history from its very beginnings, a story of forward-looking immigrants leaving their homes behind to make a new life across the ocean.
In Summer Mei-Ling Lee's outdoor installation, Liminal Space/Crossings, immigrant history mingles in Ross Alley with current conversations around immigration -- and the ways all these journeys are mediated by the ocean.
A partnership with the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, Lee's piece is a culmination of her year-long workshops with immigrant families living in Chinatown, as well as a reflection on her own grandmother's experience of immigrating to the United States through Canada to avoid being held at Angel Island. Her research brought up the idea of the ocean as a motif -- a shared ground for the Asian diaspora, the refugee crises and the larger immigrant experience.