SubUrbanisms: Casino Company Town/ China Town

Lyman Allyn Art Museum, Connecticut College, and Stephen Fan
New London, CT

SubUrbanisms documents the development of a suburban Chinatown surrounding the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut and how workers, many recent immigrants, have transplanted their cultural values to their new country.

Over the past two decades, the explosive growth of the state’s two casinos has attracted a large number of Asian casino patrons and workers into the region, many of whom have transformed the single family suburban houses adjacent to the casino into multifamily communities. In doing so, they have unconsciously challenged the American suburban way of life with its historically-contingent attitudes, norms, and values. This project presents the under-explored topic of immigrant working-class post-war suburbia while also forging connections to the histories of many long-standing community members, themselves descendants of nineteenth-century European immigrant workers in the region’s company towns.

The exhibit, curated and produced by architectural designer and professor Stephen Fan, included a public forum and publication which expanded the exhibit’s geographic and disciplinary scope. The forum was co-hosted by Connecticut College and serves as a model for civic dialogue by bringing together groups who might not otherwise intersect, including museum members, academics, professionals, public officials, students, immigrant workers, and neighbors. SubUrbanisms fostered a public conversation informed by the residents’, region’s, and nation’s cultural and historical contexts, and encouraged visitors to reflect on their own values and assumptions associated with American suburban living.

By bringing disparate communities together and encouraging civic dialogue, this project engaged many first-time museum visitors with the story of their changing town. It also re-examined the negative perceptions of immigrants and their lifestyle in a neutral and entirely unexpected setting. SubUrbanisms presents a compelling look into the ways diversity, economy, and globalization affect place and culture in twenty-first-century America.