Anticipating a COVID-19 Memorial: Quarantine and Migration Heritage as a Template? | Gareth Hoskins, Joanne Maddern
In an interview for ABC’s This Week, in May 2020, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo affirmed various “lab-leak” narratives circulating in the public domain by stating “the Chinese have a history of infecting the world.” This echoed then- president Trump’s cruder language, like “kung flu” and “Chinese virus,” that gave tacit consent to an ongoing wave of anti-Asian violence across the United States. This pattern included, tragically, the killing of six people of Asian descent, eight people in total, by a white gunman in Atlanta. Such xenophobia is part of a long history of exclusion, prejudice, and persecution of immigrants, particularly Asian immigrants, in the United States, as detailed in recent books The Chinese Must Go, by Beth Lew-Williams, and Driven Out, by Jean Pfaelzer. In con temporary efforts to reduce infection, global leaders have repeatedly deployed tropes from their national narratives about genetic purity, a fear of outsiders, and the perpetual otherness of nonwhite groups. Con temporary border control elements such as hotel quarantine for foreign arrivals, red lists, strategies to “send the virus packing,” and characterizations of the SARS- CoV-2 virus as an “unknown mugger” or “assailant” “that attacks” play on migrant- related xenophobia that stems from US attitudes originating in the nineteenth century. These measures and beliefs cultivate anxiety about foreignness and cut against progressive shifts in the heritage and museum sector toward decolonization, reparation, and repatriation.
This paper connects Western migration and quarantine heritage to emerging commemorations of COVID-19 to compare their engagement with ideas about national identity, foreignness, and disease and, ultimately, make the case for more careful and sensitive approaches. To these ends, state- funded historic sites, monuments, museums exhibitions, and displays associated with the movement of peoples in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are examined. The analysis moves through six sections. First, we link the emergence of migration and quarantine facilities around the world to nativist sentiment and racist assumptions about ethnicity, morality, hygiene, and health. Then, we con-sider quarantine more broadly as a cypher for national understandings about self and the other. Subsequent sections outline the ideological functions of official migration and quarantine heritage sites and then provide coverage of the recent operational struggles experienced at these sites and their attempts to maintain relevance in a world of reduced travel and funding. The conclusion anticipates the emerging heritage landscape of COVID-19.
We include a number of examples of migration and quarantine from around the world, but our focus falls primarily on Ellis Island and Angel Island immigration stations, two well- established points of arrival to the United States that involved inspection and quarantine between 1892 and 1924 (Ellis Island) and 1910 and 1940 (Angel Island).
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