Collection, Hawaiian

An Evolution from Paniolo to the Grammy Awards: A Master of the Slack Key Guitar

Click for more photos.

By Emilio Eusebio, Spring 2013 intern

Wearing his trademark glasses and hat, Dennis Kamakahi is a descendant of the slack key guitar sound that was brought to Hawai`i by Mexican and Spanish cowboys in the late 1880’s and later adopted by Hawaiian paniolos. Dennis started his career with the Na Leo Nuuanu group, but after the departure of the legendary slack key guitarist Gabby Pahinui, he found more prominent success with the group Sons of Hawaii. With the Sons of Hawaii, he wrote, performed, and played many Hawaiian songs that became classics. After several years playing in the Sons of Hawaii, he branched off and recorded his own solo material. His music garnered favorable acclaim and he won several awards and honors including three Grammys. His music continued to reach a wider audience when both him and his son contributed to the original soundtrack for Disney’s animated movie Lilo and Stitch 2. The melodic and tranquil sounds that emanate from Kamakahi’s guitar leave no question to the listener of the mastery of his craft.

Through Dennis’ generous donation to the museum, we are able to expand our collection and highlight different genres of music within the United States.   Among the items that Dennis donated include: an Ovation Ultra Deluxe-6 string guitar, sheet music, albums, and photos. Dennis performed with this guitar during his time with the Sons of Hawaii from 1986-1992.

Downloads: Podcast and Teacher’s Guide

  • Click here to download the podcast (mp3 file, 11 minutes, 7mb)
    History Explorer: Discovering Slack Key Guitar History with Dennis Kamakahi
    What do British cattle and Mexican cowboys have to do with the history of Hawaiian folk music? A lot, as it turns out. Slack Key guitar master Reverend Dennis Kamakahi explains in this episode of History Explorer. The episode features songs Rev. Kamakahi played during a ceremony in which he donated one of his guitars to the museum.
  • Click here to download the Teacher’s Guide

Related Links

Collection, Indian American

Donate Shoes to the “Beyond Bollywood” Exhibition

Donate a pair of shoes to the exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation.

Want to be part of Beyond Bollywood? Donate a pair of new or gently worn shoes. They can be for any season, style, age, and gender. But please do not mail us your shoes, first send us photos of the shoes to You will be contacted via email if your shoes are selected.

Please note that submissions are not guaranteed in the exhibition. There is no compensation for the donation and shoes will not be returned if they are chosen.

Collection, HomeSpun

Collection: Taxi Cab Artifacts

Christine Chou at the National Museum of American History

Christine Chou at the National Museum of American History

By Christine Chou, Spring 2012 Intern

What is more synonymous with New York City than the yellow taxi cab? The Big Apple is home to the country’s largest concentration of taxi drivers – about 60% of whom are of South Asian descent. Their presence in the industry is so strong that the South Asian taxi driver has now become a common figure in popular culture and an inescapable part of metropolitan life.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program along with the National Museum of American History’s recent acquisition of New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) artifacts for the HomeSpun Project will help showcase the working lives of Indian Americans, whose experiences and struggles form an important part of this country’s social and economic history. These items will also be used to address the broader topic of workers’ rights and labor movements in the United States.

Established in 1998 by Bhairavi Desai, NYTWA is currently the nation’s largest taxi driver union, with over 15,000 multi-ethnic members. The organization’s mission is to improve the working conditions of taxi drivers in New York City, who work 12-hour shifts with no health insurance, retirement benefits, or paid time off. According to the Department of Labor, taxi driving is the most dangerous occupation in the country. The fatality rate is 30 times higher than in any other profession, and taxi drivers are also 80 times more likely to be robbed on the job.

NYTWA provides its members with access to healthcare and legal services, and also fights to overcome harsh regulations, police discrimination, and industry exploitation through political advocacy, media campaigns, and democratic organization.

The collection of artifacts, donated by NYTWA co-founder Javaid Tariq, tells the often unseen side of life as a taxi driver. Some highlights include:

  • Trip sheets, which drivers use to record every instance of where and when they have taken passengers. The sheets are a representation of how drivers work both day and night, even during times when the rest of the world is sleeping or taking a much-needed holiday. This is most vividly illustrated on one such sheet, dated January 1, 1996.
  • Taxi meterA taxi meter, a key symbol of the economic situation facing taxi drivers, who begin each morning in debt. The red color of the meter display is a reminder of the daily debt owed to their leasers, which can average around $120 per 12-hour shift. In fact, taxi driving is one of the few jobs where one can work a full day and still lose money.
  • Citizens’ Band radioA Citizens’ Band radio used during the successful New York taxi drivers strike on May 13, 1998 in protest of severe new regulations proposed by then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. With almost 40,000 participating drivers, the city was emptied of yellow cabs that day. Because cell phones were still uncommon, drivers would instead use CB radios to coordinate with their fellow drivers and the executive director of NYTWA during the strike.

These objects and many more may be included in the HomeSpun Project as a part of the Speaking Up! exhibition opening next year. Mr. Tariq’s generous donations have been successfully added to the National Museum of American History’s Work & Industry Collection.

Related Links:


Soybean: Hidden Treasures

APA Collections Update from Noriko Sanefuji:

What comes to mind when you hear about soybeans?  Many people may think of foods such as tofu. The museum recently collected objects from a tofu shop founded in 1917 by Japanese immigrants Eizo and Tsuyo Honda. Located in Wahiawa, Hawai`i, Honda Tofu is one of the oldest tofu businesses in the U.S. After corn, soybeans are the second largest crop in the U.S. market.

Soybeans from China

Soybeans from China, 1915.

The soybean was commercially introduced to the U.S. market around 1915 from East Asia—mainly from China, Korea and Japan. I recently came across these soybeans from The Panama Pacific International Exposition which was a part of the 1915 World’s Fair held in San Francisco, California. My colleague came knocking on the door for assistance in translating the label.  My former intern from China and I played a role in translating. The soybeans pictured on the right are from China.

Is it a coincidence that it dates back to 1915? What kind of role did the Smithsonian play in acquiring these soybeans?   It provides us with a window of opportunity to look into the historical significance of the soybean.  Who were the people involved? What were their motivations?

Soybeans in the U.S. are not only consumed by humans and animals, but they are also used to make many other products. Thus, the soybean is a critical product in the agricultural economy today.

Soybean field in Iowa.

Soybean field in Iowa.


McDonald’s in Japan

McDonald's 1970's Japan Uniforms

McDonald's Japan uniforms and signage from the 1970's

APA Collections Update from Noriko Sanefuji:

What comes to mind when you think of fast food?  Probably McDonald’s.  McDonald’s has been around since 1940 with nearly 32,500 restaurants in over 100 countries.  They opened their first store in Japan in May 1971, in the middle of Tokyo.  As of today, McDonald’s has over 3,300 stores in Japan, the largest number of stores outside of the U.S.A.

These uniforms were donated to the Smithsonian by the McDonald’s Company (Japan) Ltd. These were the first uniforms in the 70’s.  The one on the left is a crew member uniform and the one on the right is a manager uniform. The uniforms have evolved over the past 40 years.

The National Museum of American History also owns the symbolic store sign from McDonald’s Japan, circa 1970’s.

When McDonald’s first opened in Japan, it created a huge phenomenon by introducing the Western “fast food” concept to a foreign country.

McDonald’s marketed as a stylish place to go to with family and friends.  They have also included special menus for Japanese customers such as American regional burgers and teriyaki burgers. Additionally, a variety of toys unique to the Japanese market are included in the kids’ meal.


Love, John F., “McDonald’s: Behind The Arches” Bantam Books, 1995.

Collection, Hawaiian, History, Japanese American

Got Documents?

Birth Certificate from Hawaii

Birth Certificate from Hawaii

APA Collections Update from Noriko Sanefuji:

I recently had an opportunity to meet Maureen Kuwano Hinkle, who kept her parents’ documents from the early 1900’s!  Among the documents was a birth certificate.   Her father, Douglas Tsuneo Kuwano, was born in Puunene, Maui, Territory of Hawai`i in 1906. Douglas’ father was a laborer like many other Japanese immigrants in the sugarcane fields of Maui for most of his life, and his mother made clothes for plantation workers.

In the fall of 1926, Douglas enrolled at the University of Colorado where he majored in electrical engineering and graduated with honors in 1930.  He also met his future wife Daisy Sasaki his junior year, and they got married in June of 1930. The depression deprived Douglas of an anticipated position at Westinghouse in Pennsylvania, so the newlyweds went back to Hawai`i.

Douglas’ birth certificate is five pages long, including not only a photo, but a witness statement by his father’s friend. I wonder if this is the long birth certificate that President Obama was also questioned for?  On the other hand, Daisy, who was born in Colorado in 1909, had a much different birth certificate. It is only one page, without a photo, and was not filed until 1927.  It is interesting to note that there is a section on “Legitimate” status and what they listed under “color” might be surprising.

Maureen also donated some travel documents, passport, and her parent’s wedding certificate.

Birth Certificate from Colorado

Birth Certificate from Colorado

Certificate of Marriage

Certificate of Marriage

All documents donated by Maureen Kuwano Hinkle
Source: Meeting with Maureen Kuwano Hinkle

Chinese American, Collection

Collections: Cecilia Chiang and The Mandarin Restaurant

Cecilia Chiang

Cecilia Chiang. Photo by Noriko Sanefuji.

APA Collections Update from Noriko Sanefuji and Tim Yu:

I continue with my search for objects for the National Museum of American History’s on-going initiative on Chinese foodways in America.  During my recent trip to San Francisco, I had an opportunity to meet with Cecilia Sun Yun Chiang who was influential in transforming Chinese foodways in the United States. Forced to flee from her home following the Chinese communist takeover, Chiang first arrived in the United States in 1960 to aid her recently widowed sister in San Francisco.  After coming across two Chinese women she had previously met in Tokyo on the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown, Chiang agreed to help them negotiate a $10,000 lease with a local landlord due to her greater proficiency in English, only to find that her new business partners would soon desert her.  Reluctant to give up on her new commercial investment, Chiang opened the now-legendary The Mandarin restaurant on Polk Street before subsequently relocating to the prestigious Ghirardelli Square in June 1968.

Several years later, she opened her Beverly Hills restaurant.  Although her initial business ventures did not yield immediate success, her voracious determination to unveil a unique, yet eloquent style of Northern Chinese dining proved to be pivotal in significantly altering American attitude towards authentic Chinese cuisine.

Artifacts from The Mandarin Restaurant

Artifacts from The Mandarin Restaurant. Collection includes porcelain tea cup, ashtray, match book with the Mandarin restaurant’s logo and a tiki cup, chopsticks with logo and various menus.

Prior to Chiang’s arrival in the United States during the early 1960’s, American people were predominantly exposed to “Americanized” Cantonese-based dishes—a stark contrast to the diverse, spicy meals offered in the Chinese provinces of Szechuan and Hunan.  Credited for elevating the standard of upscale Chinese dining in America, Chiang sought to create a restaurant that not only matched her personal ambitions as an Asian American businesswoman, but also demonstrated “the elegance, the beauty of Chinese culture” to a Western audience.   Chiang has also been acclaimed by Alice Waters, a leading American restaurateur, as China’s Julia Child, and for her role in challenging existing depictions of Chinese American cuisine amidst the Cold War. Over her forty-year reign at The Mandarin, Chiang went on to serve famous celebrities, including John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Henry Kissinger.

[1] Allan Carr and Cecilia Chiang. The Mandarin Way. San Francisco: Little, Brown and Company (1974), 7.

[2] Lisa Weiss and Cecilia Chiang. The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco. San Francisco: Ten Speed Press, October 2007, 11.

[3] Bauer, Michael. “At the Mandarin, Cecilia Chang changed Chinese food.” (accessed May 26, 2011).

[4] Harlib, Leslie. “Ceclia Chiang – China’s Julia Child.”