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!

Intern Update

Intern Update: Elizabeth Pon

Summer 2012 intern, Liz Pon, working on an exhibition storyboard.

It’s hard to believe my time here at the Smithsonian APA Program is up! It was full of exciting, novel experiences. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on two amazing projects. I helped compile resource and image lists for each as well as brainstorm content and design. Asking myself, “What would I want to see in an exhibition?” was such a wonderful experience. I had to convert my mindset from simply absorbing exhibitions to critically analyzing each item to incorporate. I loved seeing the projects in their younger “script” formats, but putting together an upcoming exhibition in storyboard format with fellow intern, Kia, was especially exciting—it allowed us to see a more tangible version of the exhibition.

In addition to learning about museum programming and curating, I gained exposure to the expansiveness and breadth of the Smithsonian Institution; from research branches to exhibition spaces, the Institution covers so much. Interning at the Smithsonian APA Program helped enrich my understanding of the diversity of our nation. From the tour of the Library of Congress Asian American collection to the “Choctaw Days” Veterans Ceremony at the National Museum of the American Indian, my summer here has been a great didactic experience. At the beginning of summer, I composed a list of places to visit and experience in D.C. I am happy to report that, with few exceptions, I have completed my to-do list! I have visited nearly every Smithsonian museum in Washington.

A great part of what I have learned here is thanks to the wonderful people—staff and interns—that work at the APA Program. We exchanged varied perspectives on everything from the Pew Research Center’s “The Rise of Asian Americans” report, to which is the best food truck for lunch (and there are a lot here!).

Independently, I researched the biomedical efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine and its usage in Asian American communities. I hope to use what I’ve learned as the foundation for my thesis.

All in all, everything from exhibition work and my personal research project, to museum events and special tours, has deepened my understanding of my ancestors and ethnic community. For this, and much more, I am thankful for the opportunity to intern at the Smithsonian APA Program. I look forward to returning and experiencing firsthand the projects that the other interns and I have worked on this summer.

Intern Update

Intern Update: Kia Hays

Summer 2012 interns from left: Kia, Josie, and Liz at the National Archives.

I am very sad to be the first summer intern to leave and I can’t believe that it is already time to part ways with the APA Program. The internship was a great experience and I gained many valuable memories. This summer, I was able to help with the APA 101 exhibition. My role was to find images for various topics that will be highlighted. I really learned to keep an open mind when doing this because each initial search would spin off into five additional ones! It really emphasized to me how much history there is that needs to be shared in a stimulating way in order to engage people.

I racked my mind for one specific event that stood out for me this summer to talk about and it was very hard to limit myself. One of the things I enjoyed the most was the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. I went on a walkthrough that was open to staff, interns, and volunteers a few days before the festival opened. We discovered that most exhibits take around four or five years to put together. The amount of hard work that goes into each part of the festival is astounding and I could only imagine how rewarding the end result would be. For a few days, I braved the intense D.C. heat to walk through different festival tents (my favorite section was the land-grant college tents—it was great to see all the innovative ideas from around the country).

The biggest thing I learned about this experience is that a lot of time and effort goes into everything done at the Smithsonian, so the people who work here have to be passionate about what they do. No minute detail is overlooked. I am going to miss being around such passionate people!

Intern Update

Intern Update: Aaron Sayama

Intern Aaron Sayama (center) at the Library of Congress with summer interns Liz Pon (left) and Josie Suh (right).

I have had an incredible summer here in Washington, D.C., interning with the Asian Pacific American Program. This summer I have been the catch-all intern, working on many different projects and blogging all about different  events I attended, such as the Guam Liberation Day Celebration and our visit to The Library of Congress. I also penned several blog posts for This Month in History: two important Supreme Court cases, Gordon Hirabayashi’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Patsy T. Mink Opportunity in Education Act.

This summer I also spent a significant amount of time working on an independent research project examining the link between social media and literary engagement. I focused on different ways to approach Asian American poetry online. For my final blog post, I am going to elaborate on one of my favorite poems: “Toasts in the Grove of Proposals” by Cathy Park Hong.

This poem comes from Hong’s 2007 book, Dance Dance Revolution. Before I talk a little about the poem, take a look and even listen to the author read it herself.

Toasts in the Grove of Proposals
Cathy Park Hong

Lo, brandied man en rabbinical cape
dab rosy musk en goy’s gossamy nape,
y brassy Brahmin papoosed in sari’s saffron sheet
swoon bine faire Waspian en ‘im wingtip feet,
les’ toast to bountiful gene pool, p
to intramarry couple breedim beige population!

Lo, union o husky Ontarian y teacup size Tibetan,
wreath en honeysuckle y dew-studded bracken,
lo, union o Cameroon groom kissim ‘e gallic Gamine’s cheek
en miscengnatin’ amour dim seek to reek
les’ toast to bountiful gene pool,
to intramarry couple breedim beige population!

Clap away, Greek chorus o gay sashayim crowd,
clap away, chatty flackmen y pre-nup hackmen,
bine fort, ruby-lined pachyderms who trundle here proud,
bine fort, madders who nag fo proposal enactment,
les’ toast to bountiful gene pool,
to intramarry couple breedim beige population!

To me, the writing here is creative and demonstrates Hong’s cleverness. Though, I hesitate to introduce this poem to a group of students because of its linguistic difficulty, I think the dialect has an interesting and readable enough meter and rhythm as to make it comprehensible, especially for students interested in hip hop or spoken word.

More importantly, I think the dialect Hong has created makes a political statement. It would have been one thing for Hong to simply write about interracial relationships. However, she employs its consequences through fluidity of language and culture, and by creating a distinct, creolized space. The dialect draws on English, French, Spanish, Latin, and “an amalgamation of over 300” languages, according to Hong, reflecting the increasingly enmeshed global culture. Hong’s book, Dance Dance Revolution, draws on global conflict to make extreme political statements, whereas the poem here makes it more subtly, as if to suggest that the logical end of globalization is the miscegenation of relationships.

Working with incredibly talented staff and my fellow interns this summer has only furthered my interest in Asian American Studies, literature, and public education. I look forward to following APAP as it continues to shape the dialogue about APAs on a national level.

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.

Intern Update

Intern Update: Library of Congress Tour

Interns at the Library of Congress

Interns at the Library of Congress. Photos by Jeremy Johnson, Summer 2012 intern.

By Aaron Sayama, Summer 2012 Intern

In addition to working on upcoming exhibitions and our personal research projects, interns at the Smithsonian APA Program also have the opportunity to explore cultural and historical sites that the District boasts. One such adventure took us to the Library of Congress (LOC).

We arrived just in time to join a reserved tour group readied for departure. Listening to our lively and informative docent, we learned about the history of the Library itself. The docent elaborated on each sculpture and relief panel in the lobby, meticulously covering the symbolism present in them. On our tour we heard about some of the Library’s most popular items, such as the Mainz and Gutenberg Bibles. Afterward, we went to see Thomas Jefferson’s personal library. Displayed in the back of the LOC main exhibit space, Thomas Jefferson’s collection of books—organized in his own clever way—gave us a glimpse of this founding father’s intellectual life.

The most rewarding part of our visit, however, was our tour of the Asian Reading Room. Led by founder and curator of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander collection, Remé Grefalda , we got a firsthand look at many of the pieces now housed at the LOC. Some of our favorite pieces include the Carlos Bulosan Archive and the Jade Snow Wong Collection. Each of the interns got to leaf through some of these books from the 1800′s, and see early 20th century depictions of Asians.

Books at the Library of Congress

1800′s books at the Library of Congress

Needless to say, after this adventure, we headed over to the Madison building to get our Library of Congress library cards. Now, when the weather gets too hot in DC, we can escape the heat by seeking refuge in one the library’s many reading rooms!

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Intern Update

Intern Update: Molly Higgins

Intern Molly Higgins

Intern Molly Higgins (right) with author Marianne Villanueva.

I might be remembered as the intern who always wanted to take long lunches to see IMAX movies and sit on the roof, but my full name is Molly Higgins. I’m a first year student at the University of Washington, Seattle, pursuing a Masters in Library and Information Science. My academic and professional interests meet at the intersections of digital technologies, archives, indexing languages, community engagement, and Asian American representation. That is to say, I want to make sure that APA communities are able to control how their history is recorded and that those histories remain accessible.

My research, naturally, has grown out of these interests. For the past ten weeks, I have been working with the Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) Spoken Word and Poetry Summit collecting interviews, photos, poetry, and other documentation of their biennial conference to post on their website ( The APIA Spoken Word and Poetry Summit is more than an arts conference. It’s a politically charged, community based, family reunion of APIA artists and organizers, who are equally committed to art and social justice.

During my internship with the Smithsonian APA Program this spring, I worked with the HomeSpun: Indian American Heritage Project organizing and evaluating the objects that have been gathered for the upcoming exhibit. This meant collecting, cataloguing, and licensing both physical and digital objects. Some of my favorite pieces were handwritten sheet music from Indian musicians like jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, and the earliest Indian cook book published in the United States (1940!). It’s been a great privilege to participate in the process of putting together the Smithsonian’s first exhibition on Indian Americans, even if my role has been a small one.

I also had the opportunity to help put together The May Project, the APA Program’s Tumblr blog project celebrating 2012 as the 20th anniversary of May being designated APA Heritage Month. The May Project highlights Asian and Pacific American Heritage through videos, photos, and stories contributed by (mostly) Asian Americans associated with the Smithsonian. The project is great not only because the stories are captivating, but because they show the range of identities, interests, and experiences that Asian and Pacific American individuals encompass. The May Project is up at

Interning with the APA Program has been a great experience. I even got to go behind the scenes of exhibit design, and see the Smithsonian’s 3D printer. With enough pictures, it can create a scale model of anything. I saw a scale replica of a Triceratops, and a set of human lungs!