“Fly to the Freedom” Eagle

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“Fly to the Freedom” eagle, 1994 Folded paper, papier-mâché, cardboard, glue and colored marker. MOCA Collection 1996.001.049

On June 6, 1993, the Golden Venture cargo ship ran aground near Rockaway Beach, Queens, NY. Its passengers, nearly 300 migrants primarily from Fujian Province, China, were being smuggled into America by a Chinese crime syndicate. Ten passengers drowned trying to reach shore.  The Immigration and Naturalization Service apprehended the others and either deported or confined them to detention centers throughout the US. 

While waiting decisions on their asylum claims in York County Prison, Pennsylvania, they created paper sculptures employing the traditional Chinese folk art of paper folding or zhezhi, using discarded magazines and legal pad paper. More than 10,000 sculptures were exhibited and sold at fundraisers. Eventually, in 1997, President Clinton released them from detention by paroling them into the United States.  Most of them, however, still do not have permanent immigration status despite having made the US their home for over 20 years. 

In 1996, the Museum of Chinese in America organized the exhibition Fly to Freedom: The Art of the Golden Venture Refugees to raise awareness of their situation. And, in 2017, the Museum re-presented these sculptures in FOLD: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures as a way to connect the experiences of the Golden Venture passengers to current immigration issues. 

Place(s): Queens, New York; York, Pennsylvania; Fujian Province, China
Year: 1993

– Andrew Rebatta, Museum of Chinese in America

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