Intern Update

Intern Update: Emily Vallerga

Fall 2012 interns: Marie, Emily, and Allia.

My name is Emily Vallerga. I recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz, double majoring in Italian Studies and  Anthropology. I have interned with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center for about three months and it has been a truly amazing and irreplaceable experience. One of the greatest things I will take away from this internship is how I can apply what I studied in school to a real-life job scenario. I quickly realized that many of the skills I learned in college, such as email etiquette, researching techniques, data compilation, critical thinking, analysis, and interpersonal skills are invaluable parts of a working environment. I used these skills on a daily basis and they have only improved.

As an intern, I worked closely with Masum Momaya and the exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation. I came on board as a research intern, which means being responsible for updating statistics and data, filling in blanks of the exhibition script, and conducting research on the yoga section of the exhibition. I have learned the process of presenting my research to a wide audience that is not strictly academic, what a design meeting looks like, and where many of the items in the exhibition will be coming from. Overall, this experience has been eye-opening and allowed me to see the many possibilities an Anthropology degree has to offer.

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.
Event, Intern Update

Teacher’s Night 2012 Recap

Teacher’s Night 2012. Click for more photos.

By Marie Ramos, Fall 2012 intern

On September 28, 2012, the annual Smithsonian Teachers’ Night took place at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, that is home to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum. Over 3,700 educators registered this year with many more eagerly waiting in line to get their hands on free classroom-ready resources. Both the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum were open for all to explore, allowing us to direct people over to APAC and NPG’s exhibition Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter.

It was exciting to see so many of our educators fired up about the Smithsonian. We distributed all of APAC’s education and program materials (brochures, pens, and flyers) before the end of the night. Even with all of our stuff gone, teachers continued to approach our table to sign up for our e-Newsletter. It is clear that people are interested and they want to know more about Asian Pacific American history, art, and culture.

For those interested in signing up for our e-Newsletter, you may day so by clicking here.

Chinese American, Intern Update

1882 Project Reception Recap

1882 Project reception recap, September 19, 2012. Photos by Marie Ramos. Click for more images.

By Marie Ramos, Fall 2012 intern

Last July, former Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program intern Sam Gerstle blogged about the passage of House Resolution 683 (H. Res. 683) and Senate Resolution 201 (S. Res. 201), that formally expressed regret for the discriminatory policies of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. As one of the new APAP interns, I had the honor of attending the reception to celebrate this momentous occasion, hosted by the 1882 Project at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. The 1882 Project is a collaborative effort by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, Committee 100, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Council of Chinese Americans, and OCA to educate both lawmakers and the public about the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Laws throughout history.

As an Ethnic Studies major, one of the first things that we covered in school were the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. So this was definitely an exciting event for me. What I enjoyed the most about the reception was listening to the speakers. Representative Mike Honda and Ted Gong (Steering Committee Member of the 1882 Project) stressed the importance of remembering our past. Others noted the progress of both our government and communities by pointing to the success of the 1882 Project—that took two years of planning and pushing—but cautioned that we should not forget the steps that were taken. There are many more issues that need to be addressed, so it is necessary that we continue to be active agents in telling and retelling our stories.

Intern Update, Japanese American

Press Conference – Congressional Gold Medal Tour

Click for more photos from the press conference. Photos by Marie Ramos.

By Madeline Sumida, Fall 2012 intern

As a Yonsei and grandniece of a 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran, I leapt at the opportunity to attend a press conference held on September 13, 2012, to publicize the national tour of the Nisei Congressional Gold Medal.  Awarded to Japanese American veterans of World War II in 2011, the medal will travel to seven museums in seven cities until it comes to its permanent home at the National Museum of American History’s “The Price of Freedom” exhibition. The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program will work with the National Veterans Network to generate a museum iPad app, social-learning website, and curriculum that focus on the primary “character values” of the Japanese American servicemen: courage, respect, humility, perseverance, compassion, and citizenship.

Members of Congress, curators, philanthropists, and five of the honored Japanese American veterans came to the press conference highlighting the collaborative efforts of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Veterans Network to educate Americans about the significance of the medal. During the conference, Senator Daniel Inouye (who lost his right arm while fighting with the 442nd) pronounced, “it takes a great and morally strong country to apologize.” By extending the highest civilian award for achievement of lasting significance and contribution to the nation, Congress acknowledges the exceptional service of more than 19,000 Japanese American soldiers who fought for their country in spite of the U.S. government’s violation of their constitutional rights and those of their imprisoned family members behind-barbed wire.

The 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team fought some of the most ferocious battles of World War II. It is perhaps best known for rescuing “the Lost Battalion,” an American battalion trapped by the Germans in the Vosges Mountains in 1944. During the Vosges campaign, the Nisei unit lost more than half of its men. Nisei members of the Military Intelligence Service proved to be invaluable interrogators and translators of intercepted intelligence and helped to build post-war relations between America and occupied Japan.

At the conclusion of the conference, photographers captured the five proud veterans as they stood beside the medal, the face of which shows the Nisei soldiers of World War II and the motto of the 100th/442nd, “Go For Broke.” The opposite side depicts the insignias of the 100th Battalion, the 442nd Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service. I was honored to meet Kelly Kuwayama, a 442nd veteran whose medals include the bronze star, the silver star, and the purple heart and was touched to see older Capitol building staff members approach him after the conference to thank him and shake his hand.

The Japanese Americans of my father’s generation maintain great pride in the achievements of the Nisei soldiers and often send each other word of any events honoring these distinguished members of the community. I know that my own family will be thrilled to hear about the Smithsonian’s mission to bring the Nisei story of World War II to a wider audience, so that these heroes may be an inspiration to American children of all races.

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Intern Update

Intern Update: Josie Suh

Summer 2012 intern Josie Suh at India Sari Palace in Takoma Park, MD.

10 weeks have passed. Each day here at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program has been full of knowledge, inspiration, and good company. Whether I was researching APA graphic novels, assisting the curator of HomeSpun, exploring the nooks and crannies of museums, or having lunch with officemates, I felt fortunate in every moment to be constantly learning and oftentimes laughing.

I engaged with the world of APA graphic literature with little more than a curiosity. After many trips to the hidden door of the Hirshhorn library (it’s camouflaged in a wall of solid blue), countless requests for books via Smithsonian’s Interlibrary Loan process (a researcher’s dream), and an obscene amount of small pink post-it notes, I discovered a sophistication behind APA graphic novels that I did not anticipate. As a visual medium grounded more in icons than realism, APA graphic novels hold great power in deconstructing stereotype and envisioning heroes that represent the APA community.

In addition to my research, I joined the HomeSpun initiative during the transition between curators. I helped Pawan prepare for the baton toss by chasing down unlabeled items in his office and cataloguing them. When Masum arrived, I corralled the images and objects of every exhibit subcategory into clearly labeled (and MacGyvered) containers. Besides investigating the occasional HomeSpun item-without-source-information, I helped Masum add a stronger visual arts element to the upcoming Beyond Bollywood exhibit. I searched for artists and photographers who depicted various aspects of the Indian American experience, hoping to find something visually interesting that would still speak volumes about Indian Americans. Along the way, I gained skills and knowledge in image research—I attended a SITES seminar on image licensing, and learned ways to search for images under the public domain to save costs.

Being a part of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program has been the ultimate learning experience. On behind-the-scene tours I have talked to a Holocaust survivor, seen a giant squid eye, and touched a clouded leopard’s soft pelt. I have been able to witness the incredible thought processes that fuel museum exhibitions from concept to design to construction. Just by being around the incredible staff and interns here I have grown as a professional and a scholar. But most of all I have been inspired by the excitement and sheer brainpower behind all the work being done in this office. I am so thankful for the opportunity to be an intern here, and I cannot wait until I return to D.C. in 2013 to see what everyone at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program is up to then!

Intern Update

Intern Update: Ali Smith

Summer 2012 intern Ali Smith in Chinatown, D.C.

How do I even begin to describe my time with the Smithsonian this summer? Three words: enlightening, challenging and inspiring. Interning at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program this summer was a truly rewarding experience. From the engaging institution-wide intern events to daily activity in the Asian Pacific American Program office, every aspect of my experience at the Smithsonian deepened my appreciation for museum work and confirmed my passion for Asian American History.

During my internship, I was thrilled to have had the chance to not only assist with fundraising for HomeSpun but also learn about the process of planning a traveling exhibition by working on Sweet & Sour with Noriko Sanefuji. I gained valuable experience participating in the planning meetings, discussing content and structure with Noriko and Cedric Yeh, and researching potential images to capture the themes of the exhibition. By helping with this exhibition, I not only learned more about Chinese American Immigration History and food (topics I am already very passionate about), but also challenged myself to think critically about questions and themes that would provide the best lens for examining this important subject. I feel that working on this project taught me to think about historical research in new ways that will hopefully position me to become a more effective researcher and writer.

My favorite external event from this summer would have to be the private tour of the new exhibition at the National Archives, Attachments: Faces and Stories from America’s Gates. While I had already encountered some of the stories highlighted in the exhibition in previous research, engaging with the curator and hearing his thoughts behind the structure and concepts of the exhibition was very interesting. I was also very pleased at the complex issues the exhibition brought to the surface as well as the diversity of its subjects; I felt that the content and the structure contributed to the national narrative surrounding citizenship, and both immigration and exclusion at America’s “gates.”

In addition to all of the exciting happenings in the office and around the city, I was also very excited to have had the opportunity to dive into my research on D.C.’s Chinatown and the history of Chinese American activism. Being in D.C. for the summer with the Smithsonian enabled me to get more involved with the community, both by volunteering and attending community events and meetings, an aspect of my internship that has critically informed my individual research.

As my time at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program comes to a close and I reflect upon my experience, I think that I have matured professionally and academically. My experience and growth would not have been possible without the support and guidance from all of the staff and interns at APAP. Thank you for your encouragement and friendship!