On Gold Mountain at the Autry Museum

The Chinese began emigrating to America at the time of the California Gold Rush. They called California Gum Saan“Gold Mountain”óa place of freedom and prosperity. For over 150 years, Chinese have come to America seeking a good life for their families. In doing so they have established deep roots in the United States and have left an influential and lasting legacy.

From July 22, 2000 to January 1, 2001, the Autry Museum of Western Heritage is presenting a major exhibition on the history of Chinese Americans and their contributions to American culture. Utilizing objects and materials from over 50 local and national collections, On Gold Mountain: A Chinese American Experience is the most significant museum show ever mounted in the United States on this subject, one that will raise awareness of how Chinese American history is essential to our understanding of the American West.

Based on the book of the same title by author Lisa See, On Gold Mountainexplores four generations of a Chinese American family who originally immigrated to California in 1867 and whose members have lived and worked in Los Angeles from 1897 to the present. The exhibition weaves this family legacy into the broader history of Los Angeles Chinatown, in order to bring focus to a community often overshadowed by better-known American Chinatowns. The backdrop for these family and community histories is an even bigger picture that illustrates national tragedies and triumphs, ranging from exclusionary laws in the nineteenth century to burgeoning suburban Chinatowns in the twentieth century. Although specific to the experience of Chinese Americans, themes underpinning the exhibition are universal. On Gold Mountain reveals how all immigrants to America are faced with similar challenges: choosing between the old world and the new, maintaining culture and language, balancing long-practiced traditions with the demands of assimilation.

Related Links:
The Autrey Museum of Western Heritage’s On Gold Mountain: A Chinese American Experience page.

On Gold Mountain is rooted in the Autry Museumís commitment to explore diverse communities that have contributed to the shaping of the American West and the way in which the regionís history has been interpreted. On Gold Mountain fills the Autry Museumís 5,900 square-foot Montgomery Gallery with over 500 examples of art and artifacts, archival materials, and photography.

In May 2001, On Gold Mountain, will travel to the Arts and Industry Building at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

An Overview of ON GOLD MOUNTAIN:

Gallery 1: The Journey to Gold Mountain, 1849-1880

Gallery 2: Chinese Labor in the West, 1849-1890

Gallery 3: Los Angeles Chinatown, 1890s-1920s

Gallery 4: Angel Island, 1910-1940

Gallery 5: Dragonís Den and Old Chinatown, 1930s

Gallery 6: New Chinatown, 1940s

Gallery 7: Traditions and Transformations, 1950s-2000

Visitor Comments from the Guest Register 

“A wonderful exhibit, very valuable in connection with the Opera and book. A great gift to our community, showcasing a part of our history that few people seem to know about. A wonderful achievement by Lisa See and her family, allowing us to share the history and memories of her family. One hopes by knowing the past, we hope not to repeat it!”

Mrs. Marguerite Lyon, Los Alamitos CA

“This exhibition often brought on tearsóI hope this exhibition will be sent to other museums in the U.S. Our Wong family from Gunagzhou and Buffalo NY is just beginning to understand the importance to document their own American experience. Kudos to Lisa See!!”

Jean H. Wong, Richmond VA 

“The M. Butterfly Tony Award! Yo Yo Maís Grammy Award! An Academy Award! An Emmy Award! A Pulitzer Prize! I have never had a chance to see any of these items in person. All this on top of a really well thought out exhibition.”


“I am very pleased to see an honest portrayal of the Chinese-American experience! And the contributions of the See Family make the pain, joy, and journey of individuals more poignant and realistic.” unsigned

“It is a wonderful tribute to Chinese Americans of the past and future. It gave me insight into a culture that I never even thought had been subjected to bigotry and racism. It was beautiful and informative.”

Sara Guzman, Covina CA 

“This was truly moving. It made me feel very connectedóeven though Iím a Jewish girl from Pennsylvania. This is more than an exhibitóit is part of an evolving sense of ourselves as Americansóall of us!

Nancy Berman

“Iím so thoroughly impressed with the breadth, depth and intimacy of this exhibit. It draws together such fascinating, hitherto disparate elements into a magnificent, thought-provoking & integrated show. Congrats!!

Janet Yang 

“Youíve done an excellent job of including the tapestry of the American experience, an experience that brings pride and tears to a human spirit. Such is the human experience and in that we should become a better humanity towards one another.”

C. C. Barron 

“Congratulations on a very significant exploration of early California and the Chinese who helped build it!” Cheryl Hatcher

“This was a very interesting exhibit and serves to remind us of those who paved the way for us to enjoy our freedom, citizenship and successes. It was very enlightening.”

Kenneth Ho, Lane LCF CA 

“The exhibit ON GOLD MOUNTAIN tells us how Americans in the past treated new immigrants. It still goes on today, only with different ethnic groups. The spirit of newcomers to our nation prevailed over bigotry, adding a stronger element to our countryís growth and prosperity.”

RMJ, Santa Barbara CA 

“Usually Iím proud of my country, but this exhibit amply illustrates the underside of our history. The great cultural, economic and social gifts of the Chinese people are of great value to this nation. Weíve met their offerings with shameful behavior!”

Nancy & Jon Darner, Berkeley CA 

“Fabulous exhibit, reminds me of the good days, visiting Chinatown when Fong See had his art shop down the hill. I was 14 years old, now 88.”

Dora Soohoo 

“This exhibit is quite heart-rending. It is sad to see what the fellow man will do to his brothers for survival. Thanks for the opportunity to see this.”

Mary Ferrar, Pasadena CA 

“Outstanding. A very valuable history lesson and sobering reminder of a shameful period in our past. May we never repeat it.”

Pat Arkin, Claremont CA 

“Thank you for bringing me a little closer to my heritage. It is hard for me to find things that are relevant to my Chinese background with an American influence.”

Sophia Chui 

“Best exhibit I have ever seen on Chinese-American history. I enjoyed the See family history interwoven with the immigration experience. Also, this was personally moving for me since my father, grandfather and great-grandfather all were immigrants.”


“Superb! I was in tears through half of this exhibition. Reminders of my own family heritage, glimpses of very personal and yet public expressions of a culture, a family and its evolution make this one of the best experiences Iíve had at a museum. As a teacher, I will share this with colleagues and students.”

Gary Todd, Los Angeles CA 

“Thank you for making this exhibit available to the public. I think this helps emphasize both the uniqueness of the Asian American immigrant experience but also the common immigrant experience. Thanks for giving Asian Americans a voice in United States history. Good luck!”