General APA

Asian Pacific American Literature 101

APAP intern visit to the Library of Congress with librarian/curator of the Asian American Pacific Islander collection, Reme Grefalda.

During the same week that the House of Representatives joined the Senate in unanimously passing a resolution expressing regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which until its repeal in 1943, prevented the immigration and naturalization of people of Chinese origin; the same week that the Pew Research Center released a much debated study on the growing role and relevance of Asian Americans in the U.S.; the same week that Asian Pacific Americans across the country participated in nationwide town hall revisiting the 30th anniversary of the tragic death of Vincent Chin, the young man who became a victim of violence when he appeared to be “Japanese”; and the same week that America celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, a resolution named after the first Asian American woman to serve in Congress, Representative Patsy Takemoto Mink, and widely known as Title IX – the Library of Congress (LOC) released its list of “Books That Shaped America,” a list of 88 books that the LOC recommended as a starting point for a conversation about books written by Americans that shaped our lives.

With help from our BookDragon blogger, Terry Hong, we decided to join the conversation and offer a list of 53 influential authors from Asian Pacific America.  She created two lists for us—pioneers and contemporary writers—the list of pioneers is below.  Who do you think should be on the list, contemporary, pioneer or otherwise? Discuss your thoughts on our BookDragon Facebook page.  Finally, we know that our list is far from comprehensive nor is it a register of the “best” writers.   The list is a humble starting point.  It is intended to join a national conversation about books that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list, or not.

Pioneering Writers

Carlos Bulosan
Theresa Hak-Kyung Cha
Jeffery Paul Chan
Diana Chang
Iris Chang
Nien Cheng
Frank Chin
Louis Chu
Anita Desai
Momoko Iko
Suyin Han
Le Ly Hayslip
Maxine Hong Kingston
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
Younghill Kang
Richard E. Kim
Joy Kogawa
Him Mark Lai
C.Y. Lee
Li-Young Lee
Mary Paik Lee
Genny Lim
Shirley Geok-Lin Lim
Bette Bao Lord
Ruthanne Lum McCunn
Toshio Mori
Dhan Gopal Mukerji
Bharati Mukherjee
Franklin Odo
John Okada
Mine Okubo
Gary Pak
Bienvenido Santos
Monica Sone
Cathy Song
Sin Far Sui
Stephen Sumida
Ron Takaki
Amy Tan
Eleanor Wong Telemaque
Yoshiko Uchida
Jade Snow Wong
Nellie Wong
Shawn Wong
Merle Woo
Mitsuye Yamada
Hisaye Yamamoto
Wakako Yamauchi
Taro Yashima
John Yau
Connie Young Yu
Judy Yung
Helen Zia


General APA

The May Project

The May Project

May marks the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, which was built primarily by Chinese immigrant labor.  While Asian Pacific Americans have been central to the American story, it took members of congress, Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California, and Hawai‘i Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga, to lobby their colleagues and the President to recognize what had been earned through sacrifice in military service and public service, and through the countless ways that Asian Pacific American communities have made America their love and home.

Twenty years ago, President George Bush signed Public Law 102-450 permanently designating May of each year as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Through the month of May, The May Project will post the reflections of Asian Pacific Americans who are associated with the Smithsonian, imagining, celebrating and teaching America from perspectives that are not always recognized and in a way that suggests the importance of these voices.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the month of May being permanently designated Asian Pacific American Heritage Month we can reflect on a number of dates that have defined Asian Pacific American communities in one way or another: 2012 marks 30 years since the controversial death of Chinese American Vincent Chin; 60 years since U.S. citizenship was granted to those born on the island of Guam; 60 years since the first AAPI Member of Congress, Dalip Singh Saund, served as a judge and as a delegate to the convention of a major political party; 70 years since Executive Order 9066 authorizing the Japanese American Internment; 100 years since planting of first cherry blossoms from Japan; 130 years since the Chinese Exclusion Act; and 150 years since the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 promoting the construction of the transcontinental railroad.

Want to see your own story in the May Project? Send your submission to Molly at higginsme(at)si(dot)edu.

General APA

Franklin Odo Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Franklin Odo Receives Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS)

Franklin Odo

Franklin Odo accepting his award at the AAAS Conference on April 14, 2012.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program congratulates its founding Director, Franklin Odo, on receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Asian American Studies.  Over the course of a professional life that spans several decades, Franklin has advanced and institutionalized Asian American scholarship at several organizations, including the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and the Smithsonian Institution.  These were not easy feats.  Franklin established these programs in climates where the Asian American experience was relatively unknown and/or struggled for cultural, financial and political capital.  While Franklin fought these important battles, he continued to be an active scholar who never lost faith in the public’s capacity to embrace the concerns of Asian America and recognize our centrality to understanding America and the world.  We offer our heartfelt congratulations to Franklin Odo.

General APA, Staff Update

Supporting Asian Pacific American Art & Culture

By Konrad Ng, Director of the Smithsonian APA Program

White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Logo

White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Logo

On Monday, April 2, our Development Specialist, Sameen Piracha, and I attended the first National Philanthropic Briefing by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) to draw attention to Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian communities (AAPINH), the fastest growing racial group in the U.S.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, White House Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu, and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Tina Tchen attended the briefing to express their support to over 200 participants from more than 50 foundations.  Participants convened around key issues important to AAPINH communities.

As Director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program (APAP) and member of the WHIAAPI Inter-Agency Working Group, I, along with colleagues from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), facilitated the focus group on culture and the arts.  Our task was to explore how public-private partnerships could improve the life and opportunity of AAPINH communities through art and culture.  While the Smithsonian Institution is supported by Congress, the resources that support its exhibitions and programs, especially the exhibitions and programs of APAP, come from individuals, corporations, and grants.  Our capacity to tell America’s whole story relies on the generosity of our supporters; it depends on you.  The Ford Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and the W.W. Kellogg Foundation’s commitment of $1 million to seed public-private partnerships was the greatest success that emerged from this briefing. We remain excited about the possibilities of this historic meeting.

General APA

BookDragon Turns 3!

BookDragon Blog

By Terry Hong (BookDragon Blogger and former APAP Media Arts Consultant)

Three years ago, BookDragon officially debuted as almost a dare. The APA Program’s founding director, Dr. Franklin Odo, bugged me on and off for years about compiling my book-related articles into a single place. So I got the idea that I might throw everything up somewhere, somehow on the world wide web… although being a Luddite, that was no small task. Thanks to the facile (and oh so very patient) multimedia producer at the time, Ricky Leung, BookDragon miraculously became the literary home of all my bookish ramblings…

And, today, BookDragon is actually three years old! I’ve been told time passes more quickly out there in the virtual world, ahem!

What a year of reading around the globe this has been! Some favorite adult reads include Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic, Krys Lee’s Drifting House, and Xinran’s Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love. Among the kiddie titles, I couldn’t extol any more the virtues of The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Save Families by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore. My manga-addicted self swears Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá was the most spectacular graphic read.

My favorite literary news of the year was definitely yesterday’s announcement that Kyung-sook Shin became the first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize, considered Asia’s most prestigious award for writers, for her Stateside debut, Please Look After Mom (she’s already a literary rock star in her native Korea with many titles) which was published April 3, 2011. Mom is surely one of the best books I’ve read in years, and I gave Shin a starred review in Library Journal (December 15, 2010 issue). Then I heard about the uproar over an NPR review by Maureen Corrigan that aired April 5, 2011 [“kimchee-scented Kleenex fiction”] … be sure to check out the even more interesting comments. In spite of such detractors, Mom did (deservedly) hit the bestseller lists and garner quite an impressive list of citations and awards.

Surely, I have so much to celebrate this year! Literally!

In addition to all the memorable books, thanks even more so to all my fellow readers. Please keep visiting BookDragon via blog, Facebook, or Twitter at @SIBookDragon. Hopefully we’ll be sharing multi-culti book news for years to come!

General APA

NMAAHC Groundbreaking

National Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture concept sketch courtesy of the Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smithgroup.

On February 22, 2012, the Smithsonian Institution broke ground for the construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).  This historic event marks another milestone whereby the symbolic space of the National Mall more closely reflects the history, art and culture of the American people.  Indeed, many of our stories are defined by the African American experience.  The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program celebrates NMAAHC for enriching our art, history and culture, and for reminding us of what is possible.

Thank you.

General APA, Korean American

Happy Lunar New Year!

Lunar New Year 2012

We’d like to wish everyone a Happy Lunar New Year 2012 (Year of the Dragon)!  Click here to read more about this important event and how it is celebrated among many Asian Pacific American (APA) communities. This year, Smithsonian colleagues Jina Lee (Smithsonian American Art Museum) and Sojin Kim (Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage) share how they, as Korean Americans, celebrate the Lunar New Year in their homes.

Leave us a comment about how you celebrate the Lunar New Year!

Young Jina

Young Jina posing in her han-bok.

Guest Blog by Jina Lee, Exhibitions Assistant at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

As a Korean American, I’ve had the pleasure of ringing in the New Year, both in the traditional Korean (Eastern) and Western tradition.  The Western tradition, as we all know, is the fun filled night of celebrating the last night of the Western calendar—Dec. 31st.  In particular, my family will the end of that particular year.  We would either go into the city (Washington D.C.) for a nice dinner outing, or stay in and have Mom cook us a delicious dinner of steak or fish.  Lastly, we would put on the annual Dick Clark (now Ryan Seacrest) New Years Eve television special, and watch the iconic Time Square ball drop as the massive crowds chant in sync with the countdown.  While the Western tradition seems to focus on celebrating the end of the calendar, the following day (January 1) for Korean Americans seems to be the opposite.  The focus is more so on starting anew and with a clean slate for the New Year.  Our New Years Eve meals were usually so decadent, however on New Years Day, Mom would cook the traditional Korean rice cake and mandu (dumpling) soup for brunch.  This soup usually had a beef based broth, lots of fresh rice cakes called dduk and homemade mandu (dumpling) dropped into the soup, along with scallions, egg, seaweed (gim), and slices of beef as garnishes.  It was scrumptious!

Young Jina

Young Jina is bowing to her grandparents as a sign of respect and good fortune in the New Year. This Korean tradition is known as sae-bae.

After “cleansing” ourselves with this soup, all the elders in our family would then sit on the floor of our living room to receive their sae-bae bows from the young ones (their children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, etc.).  Sae-bae is a traditional Korean custom of bowing to one’s elder as a sign of respect. As the young ones, we would wish them good fortune in the coming year.  We (the young ones again) would usually line up in a row, and do a group sae-bae, as opposed to the embarrassing solo sae-bae, where it was all eyes on you.  But with all that embarrassment aside, what is rewarding about the sae-bae is the money you receive from your elders as a sign of good fortune and luck in the coming year. I used to place this money in my little red and gold hand-sewn pouch that came with my han-bok (traditional Korean garments). When I was little, I wasn’t fond of the han-bok material because of all the multiple layers and the different texture from my school clothes. But, the richness of all the different colors on the han-bok were very beautiful even to my little girl eyes.  At that time, I probably didn’t realize I was celebrating both my Korean and American heritage, however after 26 years or so, I now realize how special it was to do so.  Happy Lunar New Year!

Guest Blog by Sojin Kim, Curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The translation of traditions from one place to another is of course an imprecise process with its inevitable miscalculations, deprivations, and redundancies. In my family, birthdays are celebrated on days that are vague approximations of lunar calendar coordinates and in some cases downright fabricated dates. No matter, my mother says, in our tradition everyone turns a year older on the first day of the new year, an occasion that we often observe twice.

Korean duk (rice cake)

Left: My mother's version of duk mandu guk, a dish that Koreans typically enjoy to celebrate the new year. Right: Chewy rice cake (duk).

A few weeks ago on January 1, my family convened as usual for our New Year’s meal. We sat down at 10:30 am with glasses of champagne and steaming bowls of duk mandu guk. This year, my mom’s version included both the flat chewy rice cakes and meat dumplings, strips of fried egg and marinated beef, kimchi, and a few slices of Japanese shishito pepper (standing in for the green onions that she had forgotten to buy). The key ingredient is the duk (rice cake)—eating it on New Year’s, I’ve been assured, is good luck.

A meal from the food offered to the ancestors.

A meal from the food offered to the ancestors.

Later in the day, my family gathered around for a second, less formal meal. We heaped our plates with marinated ribs, sautéed vegetables, battered shrimp and fish, stuffed peppers, and more kimchi. This bounty, wrapped carefully in old takeout containers and aluminum foil, was delivered from an old family friend, who had prepared and offered the spread to the ancestors earlier in the day. Every year, we get their leftovers, and we feast for days on these, even as our own ancestors go hungry.

In a week or so, as the Lunar Year of the Dragon kicks off, my family will sit down again for duk mandu guk. We may or may not make it ourselves—very likely we’ll go to a restaurant. In either case, we figure, one can never have too much good luck.