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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Event, General APA

Events in Spring 2012

Spring 2012 Events

Spring 2012 Events

Mark your calendars for our upcoming Spring 2012 events!  You can also print this PDF or save it to your computer.

January 23 — Lunar New Year

February 18
Annual Day of Remembrance (DOR)
2pm Warner Brothers Theater
National Museum of American History
View last year’s event 

March 10
Gallery 360: Roger Shimomura
2pm National Portrait Gallery

TBA
Vietnamese American Public Program
View last year’s event 

April 7
Gallery 360: Tam Tran
2pm National Portrait Gallery

April 14
Asian American Portraits of Encounter Image & Word Symposium
McEvoy Auditorium, National Portrait Gallery

May 6
Smithsonian APA Heritage Month Family Day
11:30am – 3:00pm Kogod Courtyard, National Portrait Gallery
View last year’s event 

May 12
Gallery 360: Shizu Saldamando
2pm National Portrait Gallery

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Event, General APA, Japanese American

Congressional Gold Medal – Event Recaps

Nisei Veteran George Joe Sakato and Senator Dan Inouye

From left: Nisei Veteran and Medal of Honor recipient George Joe Sakato of Denver and Senator Dan Inouye at the Gala dinner on November 1, 2011 (Washington Hilton Hotel). Photo by Kris Ikejiri.

Congressional Gold Medal

Ceremony program and the Congressional Gold Medal

Related Links:

Members of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program attended events celebrating the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the Japanese Americans who served in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service. Their Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., was donated to the National Museum of American History.

Here is our recap of key events: 

On the morning of November 2, more than 1,250 veterans and family representatives gathered at Emancipation Hall in the Capitol for the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) Ceremony. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave the opening remarks followed by: Majority Leader of the United States Senate Harry Reid (D-NV); Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (KY); Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA); Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA); Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX); Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA); Senator John McCain (R-AZ); and Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) who also served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Inouye stated:

70 years ago we were enemy aliens, but today, this great Nation honors us in this special ceremony. We, gathered here this morning, are all proud Americans, and grateful to our nation for giving us the opportunity to serve our nation as loyal, patriotic citizens.

That evening in the International Ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel, close to 2,500 people gathered for the gala dinner program featuring General Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, as the keynote speaker. Shinseki stated:

I know that today’s ceremony brings with it some deep and complex emotions for the Veterans here tonight. Those who survive war know that others, those who fought and died, whose stories are known only to God, never received their deserved recognitions. The Congressional Gold Medal corrects those oversights of history.

The Smithsonian is honored to host this symbol of honor, sacrifice, and freedom.  The Congressional Gold Medal will be on display in the near future.  Replicas of the Congressional Gold Medal are available for purchase from the U.S. Mint.

Congressional Gold Medal White House Briefing

Click for more photos

Honorees attending the Congressional Gold Medal Celebration were invited to the White House for a briefing on November 3, 2011, at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Eisenhower served as commander of the Allied forces in Europe during WWII, thus the venue was especially fitting for this occasion. Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program  and Japanese American Citizens League staff joined in recognizing the Japanese American Army veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) of the United States Army for their distinguished service during WWII.

These veterans received the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony hosted by the U.S. Congress on November 2, 2011. The Congressional Gold Medal represents the highest expression of national appreciation for their sacrifice in combat and for battling racial prejudices against Japanese Americans during imprisonment. Their victory abroad was a victory at home because their legacy has continued to touch future generations of Japanese Americans.

Invited speakers included:
Shin Inouye, Director, Specialty Media
David Mineta, Deputy Director, Demand Reduction
Danielle Gray, Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Policy
Chris Lu, Cabinet Secretary, Assistant to the President
Ronald Sagudan, Program Analyst, Center for Minority Veterans
Earl S. Newsome III, Deputy Director, Center for Minority Veterans

While the Congressional Gold Medal recipients never asked for this recognition, it has been long overdue. The valiant service of these men stands as a punctuation point in history.

Recaps provided by Noriko Sanefuji, Curatorial Assistant, National Museum of American History and Krista Aniel, Program Assistant, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program.

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General APA

Condolences for the loss of Francis Sogi and Franklin Chow

Francis and Sarah Sogi

Francis and Sarah Sogi

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program honors the passing of Francis Yoshito Sogi on November 3, 2011.  Born in 1923 in Lanihau, Hawaii, Mr. Sogi served with the Military Intelligence Service and the Counter Intelligence Corps during World War II, rising to the rank of Captain.  He earned degrees from the University of Hawaii and Fordham University.  Mr. Sogi was an international lawyer and a Life Partner of Kelley, Drye & Warren, and a recipient of the Order of the Sacred Treasure from the emperor of Japan.  Throughout his life, Mr. Sogi was a major leader in the Japanese American community. Through the Francis and Sarah Sogi Foundation, he contributed to causes that supported the canonization of the Japanese American experience in organizations such as the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, the Japanese American Veterans Association, the Japanese American National Museum, and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program.  We thank Mr. Sogi for his generous support throughout the years; America was made stronger by his service.

Franklin Fung Chow, a longtime volunteer, supporter, and docent of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program passed away on November 9, 2011. After arriving in D.C. from San Francisco in 1971, he worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), US Commission on Civil Rights, and other agencies where he helped to promote civil rights.  In his spare time, he promoted the local Asian Pacific American community through service to the Asian Pacific American Federal Employee Council (APAFEC), Asian American Arts and Media, and other groups devoted to the nascent identity, arts, civil rights, and heritage movements.  He also catered many events through his catering business, and founded Pau Hana Connection and other informal activities to create an informal “old boys’ network” for the APA community.  At the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, he was honored at the Asian Pacific American program for his outstanding contributions through an oral history of his life, which was featured on the Festival website. Franklin also served as a cook and storyteller on opening day.

Field interview of Franklin

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Exhibitions, General APA, Intern Update

RACE: Are We So Different? Exhibition at NMNH

RACE: Are We So Different?

Written by Stephanie Chang, Summer 2011 intern.

What is race?

This difficult and complex question is posed to all visitors at the beginning of the exhibition, RACE: Are We So Different?, at the National Museum of Natural History.  Visitors of all ages, many of different ethnic and racial backgrounds are thrust into an educationally packed exhibition that essentially boils down into three ideas:

1)     Race is a recent human invention.1
2)     Race is about culture, not biology.2
3)     Race and racism are embedded in our institutions and everyday life.3

These ideas are quite revolutionary, and certainly challenge most, if not all, social conventions today.  As an APA youth, I can safely say that my life has revolved around race.  Everywhere I go, my race precedes me.  People see the differences, think about the differences, and make sharp distinctions.  Likewise, I am just as guilty of these categorizations as well—I notice my differences, realize I am different, and I am sure that I, subconsciously, encourage these distinctions.  My race makes me who I am, what makes me unusual, and unique.  Race is what makes me different, a key factor that I use to define myself.

So to be told by this exhibition that race is a social construction and that humans are perhaps, more alike than different, most certainly gave a nice jolt to my nervous system.  Really, is race purely a human invention, unfettered from biological differences?  The visual differences between us are almost enough to seriously ponder this question—it is hard not to believe what the eyes tell you.  But I suppose this is what this exhibition is here for: to begin challenging these notions and to finally take a step towards unity and acceptance within the human race.

AALEAD Students and APAP Interns

AALEAD Students, Staff, and APAP Interns

The Asian Pacific American Program invited a group of 19 students from AALead to view and tour the exhibition, helping them challenge their ideas about race that were possibly similar to my own. AALEAD is a group based in the Maryland and D.C. area that focuses on leadership and empowerment within the APA youth community. The students, ranging from ages 11-14, worked through a scavenger hunt created by the APA Program interns. The activity took them through key stations addressing the main ideas of the exhibition.  Some were shocked at what they had found (“Cool—We’re all from Africa?!” one youth asked me), others seemed to just soak it all in.  At the end, they were asked to draw two objects. One was a locker depicting their ideas about race, ethnicity, and diversity (inspired by the lockers featured in the exhibition). The second drawing they were asked to make was a self-portrait similar to the style of the Hapa Project.  In this activity, I asked them to include a short reflection about themselves.  Many of their responses were rather insightful and downright inspiring.  One student wrote, “I don’t have any personal opinion toward any race and culture.  I just think any race is amazing.”  Another adorned her locker with the words, “Everyone is different. Race: We are all equal.”

It was an absolute delight to work with AALead.  The students showed a tremendous amount of thought and interest in the complex topic of race, demonstrating just how perceptive the youth of today actually are.  I am excited, along with the entire staff of the APA Program, to continue working with groups such as AALead.  In doing so, we hope to cultivate discussions about issues surrounding the community today and perhaps, begin to revolutionize the answer to the very question of what is race.

Click here to view more photos of APA Program interns giving tours to student groups visiting the RACE exhibition.


1 Beckrich, Amy, Gomez, Felicia, Jones, Josephy, and Overbey, Mary Margaret. (2007). Race: Are We So Different? A Family Guide to Talking About Race. American Anthropological Association.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.

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General APA

Grant Received for Social Media Project

Asian Pacific American Voices: Creating Community Through New Media, is the latest project of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program that will bring Asian American literature, arts, culture, and history to diverse audiences across the country. In collaboration with the Asian American Literary Review (AALR) and the Organization of Chinese Americans-DC Chapter, the APA Program will create an online space to host dialogues among Asian American artists, writers, scholars, civic leaders, and the public. Podcasts, live web chats, and video shorts will provide a real-time opportunity for audiences to interact with speakers from various parts of the country.

Funding for this project came from the Smithsonian 2.0 Fund which was created to encourage Smithsonian Units to advance the Institution’s work in the use of digital technology and new media. The grants are intended to provide seed money for pilot projects that have the prospect of reaching larger, broader audiences and achieving longer term sustainability.

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Art, Exhibitions, General APA

Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter

Artwork from Portraits of Encounter

August 12, 2011 through
October 14, 2012
11:30 a.m. — 7:00 p.m. daily

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
8th and F Streets NW
Washington, DC 20001
Google Map

Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown
Free admission

This installation of Portraiture Now will feature seven artists, each of whom will show several works. The artists are:

  • Cindy Hwang (CYJO), New York, Beijing
  • Hye Yeon Nam, Atlanta and New York
  • Shizu Saldamando, Los Angeles
  • Roger Shimomura, Lawrence, KS
  • Satomi Shirai, New York
  • Tam Tran, Memphis, TN
  • Hong Chun Zhang, Lawrence, KS

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program have collaborated to mount the Smithsonian’s first major showcase of contemporary Asian American portraiture. Through the work of seven artists from across the country and around the world, the exhibition offers thought-provoking interpretations of the Asian American experience and representations against and beyond the stereotypes that have obscured the complexity of being Asian in America.

Hallway at NPG where the Asian American Portraits of Encounter exhibition begins.

Hallway at NPG where the exhibition begins.

To visit the exhibition, go to the museum lobby located on 8th and F Streets NW. The exhibition is located in the first hallway on your right.

“The Portraiture Now exhibition series showcases innovative trends in portraiture,” said Martin Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter is a provocative and pathbreaking show that affirms the complex realities of Asian identity in today’s culture.”

“These exceptional works are portals into the souls of the American experience, world cultures and their intersections,” said Konrad Ng, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. “Asian American Portraits of Encounter provides engaging points of view that will enrich the understanding of Asian Pacific America.”

Click to visit NPG's website for the exhibit

Click to visit NPG's website for the exhibit

Related Links

News and Press

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