Resource List: Five Ways to Learn about Asian and Pacific Islander American History

By Priya Chhaya posted 05-18-2021 16:13


In the last year there has been an increase in violence against the Asian and Pacific Islander American community. Read the statement from the National Trust condemning race-based hatred, violence, and misinformation.

As with other underrepresented communities, there is no single narrative about what it means to be an Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA); the stories are wide and varied and often go unrecognized. Each of the resources on this list—along with three podcasts that I found intriguing—look either at the places where APIA history happened, or the intersections with these histories to present day conversations about identity. Of course, this list is by no means comprehensive, but is meant to be a starting point, because as preservationists it is important to take the time the time to learn these histories so as to move us forward in telling the full American story.

A screencapture of a website that has a map on the right with some posting options on the left. It uses the HIstoryPin platform.
A screen capture of the East at Main Street project by APiAHiP. Taken May 17, 2021. 

East at Main Street: APIA Mapping Project
Asian & Pacific Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP)

East at Main Street is a project spearheaded by the APIAHiP. Hosted on HistoryPin, this project provides an online crowdsourced mapping project to gather archival data and material objects (e.g., photographs, videos, oral histories, and other materials) that are important to identifying, documenting, and preserving historic sites and cultural resources associated with telling Asian and Pacific Islander American histories. The goal is to raise awareness of the historic places associated with APIAs through digital humanities.

APIAHiP was established in 2007 after the founders noticed a lack of representation of APIA preservationists at industry meetings across the country. Since then, APIAHiP’s mission is to protect historic places and cultural resources significant to Asian and Pacific Islander American history through educational programming, research and advocacy work, and resource-sharing. In addition to East at Main Street, APIAHiP organizes a biennial convening called the National APIA Historic Preservation Forum. An all-volunteer organization, APIAHiP is led by preservation practitioners, activists, and partners dedicated to elevating Asian and Pacific Islander American history and historic places from across the country.

We are Not a Stereotype
Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC)

Billed as a video series for educators by educators, We Are Not a Stereotype, a program of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, seeks to address three major questions: What does it mean to be APIA? Who is APIA? What are the impacts of APIA stereotypes? Throughout the series, APAC breaks down historical (and present day) issues related to migration, occupation, racial and gender identities, cross-community building, and how to support student learning on these topics while also linking to essential content through the Smithsonian museum collections.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center is a museum without walls. Established in 1997, the center works to enrich the American story with Asian and Pacific American voices. They bring history, art, and culture to visitors through innovative museum experiences and digital initiatives. Check out other programs from APAC: Heritage IRL and Our Stories Digital Storytelling Initiative (an initiative that focuses on Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander stories).

Road Trips Project
South Asian American Digital Archive

The Road Trips Project from the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) looks to redefine what the American road trip looks like by collecting and highlighting the stories of South Asians as they traveled across the United States. A collection of memories, the stories are wide and varied, good and bad, but embed the South Asian American experience as part of a quintessential American tradition.

For 13 years SAADA has documented, preserved, and shared stories of South Asian Americans. It offers more than four thousand items in a publicly accessible archive, with a supporting vision where history fully acknowledges the importance of immigrants and ethnic communities in the past, strengthen such communities in the present, and inspire discussion about their role in the future.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Theme Study
National Park Service

In 2018 the National Park Service released the latest theme study related to the history of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. This 400-page volume called Finding a Path Forward centers place as essential in telling these stories in American history. Edited by Franklin Odo, this theme study is an important resource in understanding the full narrative of AAPI history.

Cover of the NPS Theme Study in AAPI. Red with a black border and the National Park logo.
In addition to Finding a Path Forward, the National Park Service also has AAPI theme studies dedicated to Civil Rights, Japanese Americans during World War II and World War II in the Homefront. Visit the AAPI Heritage page for more resources and places associated with AAPI history.

Our Stories are Your Stories and Educator Resources
Wing Luke Museum

Throughout the month of May, the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle is collecting video stories from the Asian American community. This grassroots awareness campaign called “Our Stories are Your Stories” highlights AAPI voices for preservation in the museum’s oral history archive. In addition to this May 2021 campaign, the museum also holds a wealth of educator resources meant to engage learners of all ages.

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience is an institution that puts the community at the heart of every exhibition and program they design. The museum is named for Wing Luke who earned a Bronze Star Medal in World War II, was the Assistant Attorney General for Washington state and the first Asian American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest. The Wing Luke Museum provides exhibitions related to the Asian Pacific American experience within its museum’s walls, but also beyond its walls in the Seattle neighborhood in which it sits.  

Three Podcasts to Consider

  • Self Evident: Each episode in this podcast presents an in-depth "documentary or radically open conversations from Asian American communities—across generations, cultures, and class."
  • Campu: A podcast from the Densho Archive, Campu is a podcast focusing on telling the stories of Japanese incarceration. Hosted by brother-sister duo Noah and Hana Maruyama, this series uses survivors’ stories to illustrate and share the incarceration experience.
  • Asian Enough Podcast: From the LA Times this podcast focuses on Asian American life. The podcast “is about being Asian American — the joys, the complications and everything in between…and explore[s] the vast diaspora across cultures, backgrounds and generations, and try to expand the ways in which being Asian American is defined.” 

From the Preservation Leadership Forum Archive