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Students in Media Arts Create Historical Chinese Immigrant Exhibit for Las Vegas Museum

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Photo: Margaret McKinney/Highlands University
Highlands media arts senior Desiree Ramírez explains a panel with 1883 Las Vegas, New Mexico, plat maps that are part of the museum exhibit, Phantoms of a Rail Town: The Chinese Immigrant Experience c. 1882. Ramírez was on the graphic design team for the student project created for the City of Las Vegas Museum.

Las Vegas, N.M – The untold story of the Chinese immigrant experience in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in the 1880s comes to life in a multimedia museum exhibit Highlands University media arts students created.

The exhibit, Phantoms of a Rail Town: The Chinese Immigrant Experience c. 1882, opened at the City of Las Vegas Museum Dec. 10 and continues through the end of 2017.

“There’s so much rich history in Las Vegas, and yet the Chinese immigrant experience is unknown,” said Cabrini Martínez, City of Las Vegas museum administrator and Las Vegas native. “The exhibit immerses the viewer in these immigrants’ experiences through photographs, videos, audio, text panels, a website and historically accurate laundry props like sheets and ironing boards.”

Martínez said the exhibit features the stories of the Chinese immigrants whose laundry businesses contributed to the local economy when the railroad came to Las Vegas. The U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented these immigrants from working in most other industries.

Media arts instructor Lauren Addario’s Community-Based Projects class fall semester 2016 created the exhibit. They drew inspiration and historical content from a Seabury Fellowship project media arts bachelor of fine arts senior Shane Flores completed spring semester 2016.

“Despite occupying a small but crucial niche in the civic fabric, Chinese immigrants to Las Vegas during the boom years of the railroad are practically nonexistent in the official social record,” said Flores, who collaborated with the class on the exhibit.

Flores researched the Las Vegas Optic newspaper archives and historic city plat maps to piece together a picture of the Chinese immigrant experience in Las Vegas during the prosperous heyday of the city’s railroad era in the 1880s.

“The media arts students did an excellent job of using the historical content Shane Flores developed to create a dynamic, unique exhibit that flows well,” Martínez said. “It’s the first exhibit at the City of Las Vegas Museum to incorporate so many multimedia elements.”

Martínez, who earned her master’s degree in media arts and computer science from Highlands, worked with the students to help them design and curate the exhibit.

Donaciano Vigil, a senior majoring in media arts as well as music production, was on the the web/social media team for the exhibit. He also mixed the audio.

“The audio work I developed for the exhibit incorporates spoken narratives of the Chinese immigrant story layered with an ambient track of Chinese work chants and sounds of water flowing,” said Vigil, a 28-year-old Las Vegas native. “It was an intriguing project that relates to some of the current attitudes of fear of immigrant populations.”

Bob Mishler is longtime board member for the Friends of the City of Las Vegas Museum.

“There’s been a void in the knowledge of these early Chinese immigrants in Las Vegas,” said Mishler, who is also a Highlands University anthropology professor emeritus.  “I was very impressed with how this educational exhibit makes a significant contribution to what is known about late 19th century Las Vegas.”

Other members of the web/social media student team include Clarence Bustamante and Taj Mathis. The video team includes Shania Larrañaga, Makenzie Gruenig, and Rebecca Sharp-Jiacoletti, while the graphic design team includes Fabian Duran, Desiree Ramírez, Sergio Izzaguirre-Castro, and Briana Zollner.

Keisha Braithwaite was the graduate assistant for the Community-Based Projects class.

The website for the exhibit is www.phantomslvnm.wordpress.com/

The City of Las Vegas Museum is at 727 Grand Ave. and is open Tuesday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. It is closed on City of Las Vegas holidays. There is no charge for admission, but the museum does accept donations.