Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Celebrates Asian Pacific American History

Asian and Pacific Americans make up more than 5 percent of the U.S. population—more than 17 million people—and those numbers are growing. Their ancestral roots represent more than 50 percent of the world, extending from East Asia to Southeast Asia, and from South Asia to the Pacific Islands and Polynesia.

In commemoration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, “I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story” will open with a special six-week showing at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, May 4 through June 18. On May 4, the museum will host a Family Day program featuring local literary writers, spoken-word artists, exhibit tours, arts and crafts, and activities for young people such as scavenger hunts and storytelling.

The exhibition will next open at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles in September, before continuing on a 13-city national tour. “I Want the Wide American Earth” was created by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). The exhibition is supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

In this first exhibition of its kind, the Smithsonian celebrates Asian Pacific American history across a multitude of diverse cultures and explores how Asian Pacific Americans have shaped and been shaped by the course of the nation’s history. “I Want the Wide American Earth” tells the rich and complex stories of the very first Asian immigrants, including their participation in key moments in American history: Asian immigrants panned in the Gold Rush, hammered ties in the Transcontinental Railroad, fought on both sides in the Civil War and helped build the nation’s agricultural system.

Through the decades, Asian immigrants struggled against legal exclusion, civil rights violations and unlawful detention, such as the 120,000 Japanese who were interred during World War II. Since the 1960s, vibrant new communities, pan-Asian, Pacific Islander and cross-cultural in make-up, have blossomed.

The banner exhibition is complemented by an e-book, which is a 14-page illustrated adaption of the exhibition. Produced in collaboration with SI Universe Media, creators of the first-ever Asian Pacific American comics anthology, the e-book will tell the Asian Pacific American story in graphic narrative, featuring work by seven Asian Pacific American comic artists. The e-book is free to download and viewable on all tablet devices and e-readers.

The exhibit also features a mobile tour app, which includes interviews with authors Maxine Hong Kingston and Monique Truong; U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta; Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center director Konrad Ng; activist Deepa Iyer; and U.S. retired major general Antonio Taguba. A set of educational posters based on the exhibition will be distributed to schools and other learning and cultural institutions and organizations to serve as a resource for learning Asian Pacific American history and culture.

Visit www.apa.si.edu for more information.

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