An Rong Xu’s ongoing photography project, which documents Chinese-American life, is a way for him to process his dual identity. When the now-23-year-old was two, he and his mother left Taishan, China, to join his father and grandparents in Manhattan’s Chinatown. For the next six years, the only non-Chinese people he interacted with were his teachers. Moving to Elmhurst when he was eight was a culture shock—other children asked him racist questions (such as if he ate dog), and he didn’t understand why. With this project, Xu explains, he’s “trying to calm down the little boy who didn’t understand what it means to be Chinese-American, because I’m Chinese at home, but I have to be American at school.” The series began when, as a junior at the School of Visual Arts, Xu started to spend time at the handball courts on Grand Street (when he was a child, his mother hadn’t wanted him to play there because it was the bad park). He got to know the kids there and started photographing them.
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“One day, when I finish this project,” Xu says, “it can be a living testament that we can’t be erased: This is who we are, this is our home also. I want my children and my children’s children to remember we’re a big part of this country. I’m just trying to show a poetic understanding of the Chinese-American.”