NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — First a devastating fire and then the pandemic shuttered its operations, but the Museum of Chinese in America is finally reopening this week, introducing a new, timely exhibit to combat AAPI hate.

On the gallery’s perimeter walls is a timeline that traces 200 years of racism against Asian Americans. But the highlight and heart of the exhibit are objects submitted by the public documenting recent spike in anti-Asian hate, CBS2’s Christina Fan reported Wednesday.

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Personal artwork and essays sent from Asian Americans across the country stood on display inside the Museum of Chinese in America, documenting the community’s proudest moments assisting with PPE during the pandemic, but also capturing its darkest experiences.

“When we first heard ‘Chinese flu’ and ‘foreign flu’ get used by the former administration March 11, we kind of anticipated what would happen,” museum president Nancy Yo Massbach said.

The new exhibit, called “Responses: Asian American Voices Resisting the Tides of Racism,” is a culmination of hundreds of public responses to the tumultuous events of the last two years.

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Yao Massbach shared with CBS2 some of the most memorable.

“We have a poster, ‘I am not a virus,’ that was one of the early submissions. I think it was because a young girl was on the train with her mother and asked, ‘Why are they looking at me that way?’ And the mother said, ‘They think you have the virus,'” she said.

It’s not just the Asian American people who had to overcome great challenges. The museum did as well.

In January of 2020, a five-alarm fire destroyed 70 Mulberry St., the home to more than 85,000 museum artifacts.

About 95% of the items had just been retrieved, when the pandemic hit.

“Oh my god, if that’s lost, that’s lost history,” said Yue Ma, director of the museum’s Collections and Research Center.

“It’s not replaceable. It’s a unique collection. It’s the museum staff’s 40-year effort,” Yao Massbach said.

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Museum curators said they hope the new exhibit leaves visitors feeling a sense of belonging during a particularly difficult time.

“We want to create a space where their stories are included and they see hopefully a reflection from themselves,” Herb Tam said.

The museum is open with free admission for all.

The exhibit will run through the middle of September.

CBS2’s Christina Fan contributed to this report. 

CBSNewYork Team