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  • Celebrating Roots: APA Program

    How did this Asian Pacific American (APA) program come together into a coherent ten days of programming in just one short year of work?

    The short answer is that it really has been centuries in the making. It will take several blog postings to explain this, so let me start here.

    Many Asian and Pacific islanders coming to these shores over the last four centuries were not celebrated when they landed. Quite the contrary: some were kept out through exclusion laws, others were the victims of discrimination and violence. Despite hardships, however, these early APA pioneers always remembered to take time to remember their roots, and to adapt them to their lives in this land. Lunar New Year activities might still have firecrackers and the sound of gongs and drums, just like they would in Beijing, but the foods served might include American dishes alongside Chinese holiday favorites.

    Once the door to immigration was opened wide in 1965, millions of new immigrants and refugees came to this country. Our years of celebrating ourselves and our ancestral cultures and traditions were supplemented by the first federal celebration of the APA community. In October 1978, President Carter proclaimed the first Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. By 1990, the first President Bush had expanded the celebration to an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Both of these landmarks came about because of well-intentioned officials who wanted to do the right thing, but they also resulted from the growing size and political sophistication of the APA community.

    You can hear more about these early efforts to celebrate the APA community if you come to the Talkstory (discussion) stage of the APA Program at 3:30 p.m. on June 26. Ms. Ruby Moy, who was working in the office of Rep. Frank Horton (R-NY) when the heritage week legislation was first introduced by Horton and Rep. Norman Mineta (D-CA) in 1977, will share her thoughts about this and other developments she has seen in her many years of work on Capitol Hill.

    Another panel focusing on our roots as APAs will feature demographer and historian Juanita Tamayo Lott and Soohyun Julie Koo of the DC Office of Asian and Pacific islander Affairs. It will take place from 12 to 12:45 p.m. on June 24.

    There is much to celebrate in the APA community, and we plan to do it with performances, crafts, and food. At the same time, however, we will take time to remember the past so that we can more fully savor this major celebration of our community by the Smithsonian Institution—our nation’s official museum and cultural center.

    Phil Tajitsu Nash is the curator of the Asian Pacific Americans program at the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. 

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