Food, History, Intern Update, Japanese American

Karami: a Japanese inspired salsa from Pueblo, Colorado

By Kristen Hayashi, Summer 2013 intern

This blog is part of the Gourmet Intersections program of Intersections as American Life: the Smithsonian Asian-Latino Festival 2013.

Asian-inspired tacos are the epitome of the recent Asian-Latino fusion food phenomenon, yet the intermixing of these two pan-ethnic cultural cuisines turns out to have a much longer history than one might expect.  For over a century, cultural diversity due to immigration and migration of individuals across the United States has created the opportunity for the fusion of gastronomic traditions.

In the 1890’s, Japanese immigrants established roots in Pueblo, Colorado, to work on the railroad and nearby farms.  They longed for comfort foods from their homeland, but distance from the Pacific coast made it nearly impossible for them to obtain seaweed and other Japanese staples.  Out of necessity, they began experimenting with locally grown vegetables to replicate the taste and texture of the seaweed they typically ate with rice.  The hot green chile—a mainstay in Pueblo due to the growing Mexican population—when combined with soy sauce produced an acceptable substitute to the seaweed they grew up eating in Japan.  They called the innovation karami, which means “beautiful heat” in Japanese.  While karami remained a local specialty that was eaten mostly with rice by the Japanese community in Pueblo, it has recently found a new niche as a Japanese inspired salsa eaten with tortilla chips.

Author and journalist Gil Asakawa explores the story of “Karami” in a recent article that he wrote for his weekly blog, “Nikkei View.”  For the full article, click here:


Presidential Proclamation for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, 2013

Printed version of the 2013 Presidential Proclamation.



Each May, our Nation comes together to recount the ways Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) helped forge our country. We remember a time 170 years ago, when Japanese immigrants first set foot on American shores and opened a path for millions more. We remember 1869, when Chinese workers laid the final ties of the transcontinental railroad after years of backbreaking labor. And we remember Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have made our country bigger and brighter again and again, from Native Hawaiians to the generations of striving immigrants who shaped our history — reaching and sweating and scraping to give their children something more. Their story is the American story, and this month, we honor them all.

For many in the AAPI community, that story is one also marked by lasting inequality and bitter wrongs. Immigrants seeking a better life were often excluded, subject to quotas, or denied citizenship because of their race. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders endured decades of persecution and broken promises. Japanese Americans suffered profoundly under internment during World War II, even as their loved ones fought bravely abroad. And in the last decade, South Asian Americans — particularly those who are Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh — have too often faced senseless violence and suspicion due only to the color of their skin or the tenets of their faith.

This year, we recognize the 25th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act’s repeal — milestones that helped mend deep wounds of systemic discrimination. And with irrepressible determination and optimism, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have prevailed over adversity and risen to the top of their fields — from medicine to business to the bench. But even now, too many hardworking AAPI families face disparities in health care, education, and employment that keep them from getting ahead.

My Administration remains committed to addressing those disparities. Through the White House Initiative on AAPIs, we are working to ensure equal access to Federal programs that meet the diverse needs of AAPI communities. We are standing up for civil rights, economic opportunity, and better outcomes in health and education. We are fighting for commonsense immigration reform so America can continue to be a magnet for the best and brightest from all around the world, including Asia and the Pacific.

Meeting those challenges will not be easy. But the history of the AAPI community shows us how with hope and resolve, we can overcome the problems we face. We can reaffirm our legacy as a Nation where all things are possible for all people. So this month, as we recognize Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who are fulfilling that promise in every corner of our country, let us recommit to giving our children and grandchildren the same opportunity in the years ahead.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2013 as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to visit and to learn more about the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.

Text from The White House, click here to view the original press release.

History, Intern Update

Remembering Asian American Service Members

By Madeline Sumida, Fall 2012 Intern

Veterans Day is a time to honor the men and women in the United States military. Asian immigrants to the United States have served in American conflicts since the War of 1812, but for many years federal legislation prevented most from becoming citizens. Even Asians American citizens did not see significant change in social and legal racism until after World War II, which marked a turning point for Asians in the United States military.

During WWII, Asian Americans enlisted in unprecedented numbers. The mass demonstration of patriotism despite the detrimental political conditions established by United States enabled Asian American soldiers to transform racist attitudes towards them and their communities. Korean, Chinese, and Filipino Americans  volunteered to show their support for the United States by enlisting in the armed services. Chinese Americans pointed to their contributions in the war effort in order to pressure Congress to repeal Chinese exclusion legislation. Filipino fighters in Bataan and Corregidor won the respect of both the American military and civilian society—in February 1943, 1200 Filipino soldiers gained U.S. citizenship in recognition for their service. The unparalleled heroism of the Nisei veterans of the 442nd/100th battalion and the Military Intelligence Service caused many white citizens to recognize the injustice of the United States government’s internment of Japanese Americans.

This monument honors the members of the 442nd who lost their lives during the World War II battle at Biffontaine. It is located National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Items in the Smithsonian collection, such as this monument (pictured above) to the 442nd Combat Team’s sacrifices to liberate French territory from Nazi German control, remind us of the Asian American role in U.S. military history. Today, we continue to honor the service and sacrifices of Asian Americans in the military.


  • McClain, John. “Tortuous Path, Elusive Goal: The Asian Quest for American Citizenship.” Berkeley Law Scholarship Repository, 1995.
  • Takaki, Ronald. Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II. Boston, MA: Back Bay Books, 2001.
Chinese American, History, This Month in History

Vincent Chin 30 Years Later

Vincent Chin protest

Vincent Chin protest, March 1983.  Photo courtesy Helen Zia

Three decades have passed since the tragic death of Chinese American Vincent Chin.  On June 19, 1982, the night before his wedding, Chin was attacked and fatally beaten by two men as they made disparaging remarks about Asians and Asian Americans.  Chin’s attackers received a lenient sentence for his death – probation and no jail time.  Support for the Chin family spurred a new generation of pan-Asian American activism, arts and scholarship in support of civil rights and justice, and the formation of the American Citizens for Justice advocacy organization.  As a result of this political movement, Chin’s attackers were tried in federal court for violating Chin’s civil rights.  The tragedy of Vincent Chin is part of the history of coalitional politics and movements in the Asian Pacific American community, and joins the many events, both tragic and hopeful, that compose the ongoing journey for civil rights.

Chinese American, History, Intern Update

House Resolution 683

House Resolution 683 press conference, June 18, 2012. From second left: Tom Hayashi (OCA), Michael Lin (Chair of the 1882 Project), Priscilla Ouchida (JACL), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32), Ted Gong (CACA) & Hei-Pei Shue (NCAA). Photo by Noriko Sanefuji

By Sam Gerstle, Summer 2012 Intern

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a press conference held by Representative Judy Chu to celebrate the passage of House Resolution 683 (H. Res. 683), legislation that joined Senate Resolution 201 (S. Res. 201), expressing regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned Chinese nationals from entering America. This act isolated the Chinese American community from their friends, relatives, wives, and children.   At the press conference, representatives from various community organizations and leading co-sponsors of Resolution 683 acknowledged the importance of this moment, not only for Chinese Americans, but for all citizens and residents of this country.  The passing of this Resolution led by a Chinese American member of Congress shows how far we, as a country, have come since the 19th century.

For me, the most stirring speech was given by Texas Representative Al Green, who likened the struggle for acceptance by the Chinese American community to struggles by the African American community.  Representative Green recognized the importance of Resolution 683, but also warned that the fight must go on in order for all Americans to feel welcome and equal in this country.

History, Japanese American

Gordon Hirabayashi Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

Gordon Hirabayashi, center, in 1999 at the former prison camp in Arizona where he was held for about a year. The camp was later renamed for him. Courtesy of the Associated Press (AP)

By: Aaron Sayama, Summer 2012 Intern

The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor awarded to civilians in the United States. It was established in 1963 by President Kennedy and is presented to those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

One of the honorees this year, Gordon Hirabayashi, was a 24-year-old student attending the University of Washington in 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, sending tens of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry to relocation (internment) camps during WWII. Defying those orders, Hirabayashi turned himself into the FBI claiming the order was discriminatory.

Hirabayashi was convicted by a U.S. Federal Court for defying the exclusion order and violating curfew. His fight would take him all the way to the Supreme Court, where his conviction was upheld and he was imprisoned in 1943. After the war, Hirabayashi earned a doctorate in sociology and became a noted professor and committed civil rights activist. In 1987, his  conviction was finally overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He passed away on January 2, 2012 and was awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously.

Related Links/Works Cited:

Academic, Event, Family, Film, History, Japanese American, Lecture

Recap: Annual Day of Remembrance at the Smithsonian


Poster design by Nigel Briggs, National Museum of American History

By Noriko Sanefuji (Curatorial Assistant) and Christine Chou (intern)

This year’s Day of Remembrance (DOR) was special for many reasons. Not only is it the 70th anniversary since the signing of Executive Order 9066, the action that led to the imprisonment of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, it was also to honor the Japanese American WWII veterans that were recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

The program began with a keynote speech by Secretary of Veterans Affairs General Eric Shinseki (watch the video clip above or download his speech here). He reflected on the roles of Japanese Americans who volunteered in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service during World War II. General Shinseki recognized their merit in receiving the award and stated that their legacy shows what it means to be an American to future generations. He said:

PDF of Shinseki's Speech

Download PDF

“In all my years in the military, I can find no better, no more compelling, and no more inspiring story of what it means to be an American than the stories and battle histories of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service. They were premiere warfighting units ranking among the very best in U.S. military history. The legacy of those who served in those units is a tradition of patriotism, loyalty, courage, honor, dedication and sacrifice that’s as old as the American Revolution. Their’s is an American story.”

General Shinseki’s keynote speech was followed by a film highlighting the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony.  Afterward, there was a panel discussion that included Grant Ichikawa, MIS veteran; Gerald Yamada, Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA) president; Christine Sato-Yamazaki Chairperson, National Veteran Network; and Doug Sterner, author of Go For Broke.  The panel was moderated by Franklin Odo, former director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. Everyone provided insights about the significance of the Congressional Gold Medal and the process of recognizing Japanese American WWII veterans.

DOR Recap

Day of Remembrance Recap

Dr. Odo began the discussion by asking the panelists: “What does the Congressional Gold Medal mean to you?”  Mr. Ichikawa recalled his experiences in the MIS and reflected on how proud he is to be a recipient of the medal.  Ms. Sato-Yamazaki expressed her feelings on how the award ceremony represented the completion of a difficult, two-year effort to obtain congressional approval for the medal.  Mr. Sterner explained how the medal was the highest honor bestowed by Congress.  According to Mr. Yamada, the award gives JAVA the chance to make the Nisei soldiers’ legacy a living story, rather than just a historic one.

Museum visitors viewed the actual Congressional Gold Medal up close during the event.  Objects made inside the barbed wire camps during WWII were also on display at a nearby education cart. Artifacts were brought out of storage for DOR, and experts were also available to answer questions from the visitors at the education carts. Representatives from the U.S. Mint were there to discuss how the medal was created.

Interns at an education cart

Interns Christine Chou (Smithsonian APA Program) and Erin Anderson (National Museum of American History) talk to a visitor at an education cart. Photo by Donald Hurlbert, NMNH

Smithsonian APA Program intern Christine Chou designed a second educational cart as an interactive way of learning about daily life in internment camps. Objects on display included typical mess hall food, tools from working life, school artifacts, leisure items (like a baseball), and craft materials used for art projects. Historical photos complimented the objects to provide a more complete picture of camp living conditions. Everyone was encouraged to pick up and touch the objects. Some of the most popular items were the medical tools, including a stethoscope, head mirror, and elbow splint, which visitors were free to try on and use.

Another popular item, the dog tags of a Japanese American World War II veteran, belonged to Grant Ichikawa, who was interned before joining the military. As visitors held his dog tags, they were told that Mr. Ichikawa was actually in the museum that day to tell people about his experiences, and it was a quietly powerful moment. For visitors and volunteers at the cart that day, having the opportunity to interact with these artifacts helped foster a deeper connection to our national history.

Related Links:

Related Blogs:

Related Podcast: History Explorer: Japanese American Internment and WWII Service
Listen to the Podcast (MP3 file)
View more photos

Curatorial assistant Noriko Sanefuji interviews Grant Ichikawa, a U.S. veteran who enlisted after being relocated to a Japanese American internment camp with his family in 1942. Allowed to join the army after a need for interpreters, Mr. Ichikawa served the country proudly. In 2011, he and other veterans were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his service.

Veteran Grant Ichikawa

Curatorial assistant Noriko Sanefuji interviews Grant Ichikawa at the National Museum of American History, February 2012.

TalkBack Board

TalkBack Board

We also utilized the National Museum of American History’s TalkBack Boards program to invite the museum visitors to post their comments.

Today the U.S. Mint will be presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to Japanese Americans to honor their service during WII. How do you think America should honor its veterans?

You can join the online conversation by clicking here.

History, Japanese American

Gordon Hirabayashi

Gordon Hirabayashi (right) and Grace Uyehara at the Supreme Court. Photo by Doris Sato, 1987.

Gordon Hirabayashi (right) and Grayce Uyehara at the Supreme Court. Photo courtesy Doris Sato, 1987.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program honors the life and legacy of Gordon Hirabayashi, who passed away on January 2, 2012. Hirabayashi was a sociology professor, civil rights activist, and known for challenging the basis of Executive Order (EO) 9066, which had authorized the evacuation and imprisonment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.  He was the petitioner in court case, Hirabayashi v. United States (1943).

Gordon Hirabayashi in 1942.

Gordon Hirabayashi, 1942.

While a student at the University of Washington,  Hirabayashi objected to EO 9066 by refusing to abide by a curfew imposed on Japanese Americans and refusing to enter a relocation camp.  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the government’s argument that the restrictions were a military necessity. It took four decades for Hirabayashi to be vindicated, with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that the internment policy “had been based on political expediency, not on any risk to national security,” as The Associated Press wrote.

Hirabayashi’s story about U.S. civil rights history was featured in the landmark exhibition, A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution at the National Museum of American History.

Here is an interview from the exhibit:

“I was charged with uh, violation of uh, exclusion order. And then, subsequently I was given a count two, uh, curfew violation by my own admission. They said: ‘If you feel this way, what’d you do about the curfew?’ I said: ‘Well, uh what were you doing the last coupla’ nights, were you out after eight?’ And he says ‘Yeah.’ And I said: ‘Well, so was I.’ And he said: ‘Oh, then you violated the curfew.’ And he put me down. So those were the charges against me. The uh, instruction (I’m condensing this) but the instruction of the judge to the jury uh, as they were to leave was: ‘You can forget all that Constitutional discussion by the defense. The Western Defense Command order is: That all persons of Japanese ancestry both alien and non-alien must abide by these orders. You are to determine first of all whether he is of Japanese ancestry. If he is, did he abide by these orders?’ And, all of those questions were admitted by me.”

— Gordon Hirabayashi: Violation of Exclusion Order

Save the Date!

The Smithsonian Annual Day of Remembrance (DOR) is on February 18, 2012.  It will be at 2pm at the Warner Brothers Theater in the National Museum of American History.

History, Japanese American

Congressional Gold Medal Award Comes to the Smithsonian

President Obama and guests after signing S.1055

President Obama and guests after signing S.1055*. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Congressional Gold Medal Awarded to the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service to come to the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program honors the soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and members of the Military Intelligence Service for their dedicated service during World War II.

Congressional Gold Medal

Congressional Gold Medal, photo from the U.S. Mint

On November 2, 2011, members of these units will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award, in a ceremony hosted by the U.S. Congress.  The 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service were the units of predominantly Japanese Americans, and some Korean and Hawaiian Americans, who would serve with great courage, distinction, and sacrifice.

The Congressional Gold Medal will be donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History and tour across the country.  Display schedule to be announced in the near future.

*S.1055 – A bill to grant the congressional gold medal, collectively, to the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, United States Army, in recognition of their dedicated service during World War II.

Related Links:

History, Intern Update, Japanese American

Picture Bride Toku Shimomura

Written by Stephanie Chang, Summer 2011 intern.

There are several perks to being an intern at the Smithsonian Institution.  With a wave of my purple badge, I am able to breeze on by the long lines at the museums, receive discounts at various Smithsonian food courts and even get free tickets to the Smithsonian IMAX.   But I must say, perhaps the best perk of all has to be the opportunities I get to work with prolific Asian American scholars and notable members of the APA community. Roger Shimomura, a ground-breaking artist to be featured in next month’s Smithsonian exhibit, Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter at the National Portrait Gallery, was one such member that I had the pleasure to collaborate with.

Toku Shimomura

Toku Shimomura

Professor Shimomura has created a wide range of, as stated by his biography on his website, “paintings, prints, and theatre pieces [that] address sociopolitical issues of ethnicity.”1  Much of his art, which convey his experience being Japanese American, is said to have been inspired by several sources.  One source that I found particularly interesting was his grandmother.  Shimomura’s grandmother, Toku Shimomura, was a picture bride.  Picture brides, an entity that most Americans know nothing about, were some of the first Japanese and Korean women in America.  These women were arranged into marriages by the sole exchange of pictures. They would arrive in America as complete strangers to their husband, customs, and the land.  It was an undoubtedly terrifying experiencing for all the brides. However, with a bit of luck, some of these brides were able to rise to the occasion and become strong women in charge of their families, and even in some cases, communities.

Picture Brides and Shimomura's Grandmother on the bottom-right.

Picture Brides and Toku (bottom-right)

Toku Shimomura’s tale is filled with courage, hard work, and a bit of good fortune.  It began in a Tokyo silk factory where Toku and her future brother-in-law, Sabe, both worked.  Sabe found her suitable for his brother in America, and proposed a picture marriage.  She accepted.  In 1920, Toku arrived in Seattle. There, she met her husband for the first time.  Similar to most picture brides’ sentiments at the time, Toku felt disappointed with who met her at the harbor. However, as Roger stresses, his grandmother eventually overcame her initial dissatisfaction and soon fell in love with her arranged spouse.  With the love and support she received from her husband, Toku was able to earn a midwifery license and begin her own private practice.

Toku Shimomura with her grandson, Roger.

Toku Shimomura with her grandson, Roger.

Toku’s business boomed—she eventually delivered over 1,000 babies, including her own grandson, Roger—granting her economic power and status as the household breadwinner.  Toku was heavily involved in the Japanese Methodist Church as a member of the choir. She even held the distinction as the first Japanese woman to acquire a driver’s license in the United States. Toku took advantage of the opportunities available to her and was able to assert her strength as a woman. Her neighborhood looked upon her with respect and admiration. Mrs. Shimomura, a “matriarchal figure in a quiet way”, as Roger reminisces, eventually ascended to the role as a leader of the community.  With her passing in 1968, she left a lasting legacy in her hometown, the APA community, and, of course, as the artist’s own personal inspiration.

While Toku’s story is certainly atypical of most picture brides (and women for that matter) at the time, it is a wonderful testament of female empowerment within the APA community.  Many of Professor Shimomura’s artistic renderings reflect her strength and elegance, and are an incredibly noble and honest tribute to his grandmother’s memory.

Artwork by Roger Shimomura (1980): "Diary: December 12, 1941." Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Related Links

You can see his pieces live at the National Portrait Gallery from August 12, 2011 through October 14, 2012.  We hope to see you there!

Photos courtesy Roger Shimomura.