As a Chinese American whose family has been in the States for generations, AnRong Xu has long been drawn to his own ancestry as it ties in to American history. “I had many questions about our place as an ethnic group in America, and it led to me traveling across the United States in search of what it means to be a Chinese American,” he shares. Shaped by memories of “a childhood of seeing my mother work in a sweatshop, my father bellying up to the wok, and a Chinatown filled with hopes and dreams for my generation,” AnRong Xu sought to depict through his photographs the distinctive experience of Chinese Americans across the States.
For his project, AnRong hopes to “create an idea and a record of an American people,” journeying to Chinatowns across the States and meeting individuals to hear their stories. His project is a combination of portraits, stills of people’s homes or belongings that speak to who they are, and scenes of everyday life in Chinese American communities. “For the most part, I just wander and get lost, and sometimes I come upon my subject, and sometimes I don’t, but the journey in itself is where I find most of my pictures.”
One of the most rewarding elements of the project for AnRong Xu has been the personal interactions he’s shared with fellow Chinese Americans. “For me, the most compelling people and situations are often the quiet ones. I feel often as a society we talk too much and don’t show enough. So when I’m with a subject or in a situation, I love the silence and quiet moments that I can share with the subjects or just with myself. And in all those moments, I find that the human story is the most compelling; so many of the people I photograph had sacrificed so much to be in this country, and now here they are living and surviving.”
A self-described romantic, AnRong says that although his style has evolved since he first started photographing in high school, the quality of being a romantic has remained and is today the defining aspect of his work. This reflective quality led him to consider the abstract idea of identity and its practical implications in individuals’ lives. “Through this project, there has been a lot of maturation for myself,” AnRong acknowledges. “Seeing and learning of others’ experiences as Chinese Americans in this country helps bring a bit more of an understanding of what it means to be American for myself. It has also revealed so many different stories of struggle, success, and different journeys that I feel privileged to be able to know and also share via my photographs.”