‘I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story’ Opens at JANM Sept. 14

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Japanese American laborers at Tule Lake War Relocation Center. (Library of Congress)

The Japanese American National Museum presents “I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story” from Sept. 14 to Oct. 27.

Traveling from the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Center, the exhibition explores the deep-rooted history of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States, spanning from the first immigrants in the 1800s to the multiethnic communities found today. Through the display of 30 banners of poignant text, photographs, and art, this exhibition takes a sweeping look at how Asian Pacific Americans have shaped and been shaped by the course of the nation’s history.

Kristi Yamaguchi became the first Asian American woman to win a gold medal in a Winter Olympic Games when she dazzled judges in the 1992 women’s figure skating competition. (Mitchell Layton)

For decades, “Asian in America” was not the same as “Asian American.” While the earliest immigrants struggled to be legally recognized as citizens, their descendants fought to be seen as “true” Americans. Additionally, Asian Pacific Americans have played key roles in some of the nation’s most important moments — from the long stretches of the Transcontinental Railroad to the toughest battles of World War II to the streets of Oakland to Washington, D.C. Alongside some of history’s greatest names, they campaigned for civil rights and social justice — both for themselves and for others.

Since the 1960s, and subsequent new waves of immigration, the demographic makeup of America and its cultural landscape has dramatically changed. “I Want the Wide American Earth” extends beyond the often tumultuous past and marks the unique challenges that exist in a multicultural, multiethnic society. As one of the fastest-growing groups in the nation, Asian Pacific Americans continue to lead the way to the future, serving as pioneers in numerous fields as diverse as fashion design, sports, entertainment, and science.

To complement this banner exhibition, JANM will display key artifacts from its permanent collection to give an additional perspective to the Asian Pacific American experience.

Kalpana Chawla in 2002. Born in Karnal, India, she was the first Indian American astronaut and first Indian woman in space. (NASA photo)

Other exhibition features include “Our American Voice,” a new two-person show exploring the diverse stories of Asian Pacific Americans held every Saturday in the gallery; a free 14-page graphic narrative of the Asian Pacific American story; and a mobile tour app featuring interviews with prominent Asian Pacific Americans.

“I Want the Wide American Earth” will open to the public on Friday, Sept. 13, with an opening party packed with entertainment and treats from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. YouTube comedy and music stars The Fung Brothers and DANakaDAN + CREW LOVE will be performing live, along with music from DJ Tony and food from the Mighty Boba Truck and Aloha Café. JANM will also debut “Our American Voice” in partnership with East West Players.

The exhibition was created by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and curated by its initiative coordinator, Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis. It is supported by a generous grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and is a collaborative initiative with Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).

JANM is located at 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo. For more information, call (213) 625-0414 or visit www.janm.org. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults; $5 for seniors, students and children; free for museum members and children under age six. Admission is free to everyone on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and every third Thursday of the month from noon to 8 p.m.

Laura Kina’s 2011 painting “Issei” is a portrait of the ghost of her great-grandmother who immigrated from Okinawa to the Big Island of Hawaii as part of the picture bride system of arranged marriage.

Left: The Vietnam War caused a mass exodus of refugees from Communist-controlled Vietnam and surrounding nations. More than 800,000 “boat people” relocated to the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s, with many more perishing at sea. The surviving refugees, along with new waves of Asian Pacific American immigration made possible by the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act, dramatically changed the makeup of America. (U.S. Department of the Navy photo)
Right: The Angkor Dance Troupe of Lowell, Mass. Lowell’s Cambodian American community has over 25,000 people, the second-largest population of Cambodians in the country. (James Higgins)

Left: Filipino American chef Cristeta Comerford in 2005. She is the first woman and the first person of Asian descent to hold the position of White House executive chef. (White House photo)
Right: Queen Lili`uokalani (1838–1917), the last monarch of the independent Hawaiian kingdom. In 1895, rebel forces loyal to Lili`uokalani engaged with forces of the new Republic of Hawaii in a week-long conflict that ended with the arrest of the former queen and her imprisonment in the royal palace. To prevent further bloodshed, she formally abdicated the throne. (Hawai`i State Archives)

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