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Title: The Wing Luke Asian Museum., By: Chew, Ron, Chinese America: History & Perspectives, 10517642,
2000
Database: Academic Search Premier

THE WING LUKE ASIAN MUSEUM Find More Like This

Gathering Asian American Stories

In the past decade, many Asian American activists, passionate about reclaiming the past and educating
the next generation, have filtered quietly into the museum field. I am among them.

In 1991, I came to the Wing Luke Asian Museum--the only pan-Asian American community-based
museum in the United States--to serve as the first full-time Asian American director in the institution's
history. Like my colleagues at the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas in New York City, Japanese
American National Museum in Los Angeles, and other neighborhood historical museums, I am motivated
by the conviction that art, history, and culture can make a profound difference in the lives of ordinary
people, that creative discourse and learning can inspire individuals and communities to imagine a world
more responsible, tolerant, and just than the one to which we fall heir. This is the vision that inspires the
twenty-one staff members and seventy-five volunteers at the core of the Museum today.

The Wing Luke Asian Museum was named in honor of Wing Luke, a Chinese American immigrant elected
to the Seattle City Council in 1962. Luke, a charismatic and visionary political leader who fought for open
housing, historic preservation, and cultural pluralism, was the first Asian American elected official in the
Pacific Northwest. After Luke died in a plane crash in 1965, the Chinese American community and other
friends came together to start a museum in the Chinatown-International District in his honor. Luke, whose
grandfather had immigrated to Seattle in the early 1900s, had talked of a museum celebrating the culture
and history of Asians who had settled in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, it was Luke's death that
made that dream come to pass.

"Wing had enormous respect for the struggles and hardships of the old-timers," Bettie Luke, Wing Luke's
younger sister, recalls. "At the same time, he saw that the knowledge of cultural practices and rituals was
rapidly vanishing. He believed that there was a need for a living museum that would support the
preservation of folk art and traditions--not a museum simply to store old things, but a grassroots institution
connected to people in the community that you wouldn't have to travel miles to go visit."

In 1967, the Museum opened its doors in a small storefront at 414 Eighth Avenue South in Seattle's
Chinatown, just a block from its present location. The space was formerly occupied by the Wah Young
Company, a Chinese import-export business, which moved down the street. Coincidentally, the idea for

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the Museum was born at the site of the Wah Young Company, itself an institution of history, a pioneer
business established in 1910. In 1964, Luke, then a City Council member, met with the manager of the
Wah Young Company, who found a pair of shoes in the store basement dating back to the early 1900s.
From that exchange, the idea of a museum was born.

Local architect Ben Woo, who designed the museum storefront and interior, said that about $17,000 was
spent on remodeling the old Wah Young Company space. "Nobody knew a museum from a hole in the
ground--it was just a concept," he said, laughing. "I was the only one who had any physical concept of
what a museum should be." The Museum opened on May 18, 1967 with an inaugural exhibition on
Chinese pioneer families in Seattle: photographs and newspaper articles, and some loaned clothing. This
exhibition was followed by an origami display.

In the beginning years, the Museum was run by volunteers. By 1970, Peg Marshall, a local weaver who
had donated a woven pillow to a Museum auction fundraiser, was tapped to serve as director. "I
volunteered for a little while and it went on forever," she recalled. "There wasn't any organization back
then. There wasn't a budget. I had nothing to work with." She began actively cultivating relationships with
elders and activists, and borrowing Asian artifacts to mount small changing exhibits each month. "My
challenge was finding an exhibit I could put together and hang with no assets," she said. "I even once put
together a show on calendars. I borrowed things from the attic, wherever I could find things." In her first
several years at the Museum, Marshall was unpaid. As the Museum began to bring in money from an
annual art auction, income was generated to provide a minimal salary for the director.

In the 1970s, Asian American artists and community activists helped the institution initiate a Northwest
Asian American art exhibition, an important new annual showcase for artists often overlooked by
mainstream art galleries. One high point was the 1980 exhibition, "Made in America," organized by Vera
Ing, featuring fifty works, many by young, emerging Asian American artists.

In 1983, Kit Freudenberg was hired as the new director of the Museum. Bearing degrees in museology
and American history, she set out to "professionalize" the operation. "I was hired because the Board
wanted a professional museum person to concentrate on collection management and care," she said.
Under the new Board mandate, she said, she aggressively set about cleaning, cataloguing, and
researching artifacts, "many of which had been placed in boxes or marked with masking tape."

During Freudenberg's tenure, the Museum instituted a more ambitious fundraising agenda and exhibition
schedule and an expanded school tour program. The first display under Freudenberg's charge--featuring
Asian kites--was popular with school tour groups. "That exhibit pretty much got the Museum on its way,"
she said. "Now, you had to make an appointment before you brought a group in."

In 1987, the Museum completed its first capital campaign, raising nearly $350,000 to renovate the upper
floor of an old auto garage into a museum with climate control, storage facilities for collections, and five
times as much exhibit space as the previous site. Meanwhile, the Northwest Asian American Theatre, an
Asian American community theater company established by student activists in 1974, converted the
basement into a modest performing theater space.

As audiences increased, the Museum began for the first time to charge admission to general visitors,
retaining Thursdays as a free day To manage the increasing level of activity, Freudenberg added three
key staff positions: education curator, to coordinate school tours; membership/volunteer coordinator, to
assist with fundraising, and registrar/collections manager, to catalogue the growing number of donated
artifacts. "When we could pay for it," Freudenberg said, "we would hire scholars to write the exhibit text or
a professional to install the show. We started relationships with other institutions that enabled us to borrow
artifacts for exhibitions. We began to make people aware that if you give something to this place, your
descendants could come here many years later and see the family legacy continue."

I was hired as the new director of the Wing Luke Asian Museum in February 1991. The Board of
Directors, concerned about reinvigorating relationships with the local Asian American community, had
brought me to the helm on the strength of my ten years as editor of the International Examiner and
longtime community activism. I was not unfamilar with the Museum, having helped with two locally created
traveling exhibitions that had premiered at the Wing Luke in the 1980s: "Alaskeros," portraits and stories of

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pioneer Filipino cannery workers, and "Shared Dreams," a statewide pan-Asian American history display
On these and other community projects, I had worked closely with many longtime Asian families, writers,
and artists, and had earned their friendship and trust.

When I came to the Museum, I hardly knew what a docent or curator was, or how a real museum was
supposed to operate. But I had the active support of many in the local community who forgave my early
mistakes and cheerfully urged me on during my first year or so of on-the-job self-training.

On a board level, I worked quickly with President Peter Moy to add six new members, most of whom were
activists like myself. On a staff level, I hired Charlene Mano, a third-generation Japanese American whose
family, like mine, had deep roots in the Seattle community She came aboard as the new education director
and anchor of a new activist vision. Mano, a special education instructor, recalls, "I was excited about the
possibility of coming to a place where I could combine my interests in art history, community issues, and
education."

Shortly after Charlene and I came aboard, we initiated an experimental exhibit project that would become
the model, in spirit, for every exhibit to follow. It became the signature project for a museum looking for
new methods of community engagement. This display, "Executive Order 9066:50 Years Before and 50
Years After," opened on February 19, 1992, the fifty-year anniversary of the infamous federal order which
forced 110,000 Japanese Americans to forsake their homes for desolate concentration camps.

The specific focus of the exhibit was to tell, in the voices of the former camp inmates and their children,
the painful story of the wartime injustice: the loss of property, rights, and precious freedom, the struggles
to resist the incarceration and survive camp conditions, the diligent efforts to rebuild lives and heal
profound emotional wounds, and the attempts, finally, to seek justice from a government that had coldly
breached their trust.

"You can't create a quality exhibit," we were duly warned in the beginning, "if you put the work in the
hands of a committee. You'll have too much in-fighting, too many egos, no artistic control."

Charlene and I weren't convinced. The "9066" experiment--grounded on the premise that a museum
should be a living laboratory for the collaborative talents of ordinary people, not simply a place for a small
group of specialists--defied the fears of the skeptics. The exhibit drew more than fifty thousand visitors to
our small facility over a seven-month run. It was more successful than any exhibit ever assembled by the
Museum in its history and brought national acclaim to a once-quiet neighborhood cultural institution.

During the course of a year, more than a hundred people from the local Japanese American community
came to the Museum to work on the project, forging deep relationships among themselves as they learned,
planned, shared, gathered information, conducted interviews, designed, wrote, and built the exhibit. They
met across the vast generation gulf, leaving behind old grudges and political differences, to bring this
endeavor to life. The display was stellar in every respect, garnering, as proof, several awards, many
outstanding reviews, and the respect of the museum community.

The exhibit moved me emotionally in a way few other exhibits have, before or since. I recall walking down
to the exhibit floor and hearing, from behind display wails, the animated chatter of the second-generation
Nisei discovering familiar faces, "Holy smokes! Why that's--." From there, the retelling of countless stories
would begin. I would see visitors emerge from the replicated barracks from Minidoka--constructed in
painstaking detail by Bob Shimabukuro--to talk about their sense of betrayal by the government, revealing
deep anguish at seeing parents "broken" during the years of incarceration. In the alcove display on the
Nisei veterans, I would see family members huddled in reflective silence, sobbing, remembering the loss
of brothers and uncles who had sacrificed their lives in the hope of banishing public doubts about
Japanese American loyalty to this country.

The success of the "Executive Order 9066" experiment set the stage for the Wing Luke Asian Museum to
reimagine itself as a vehicle for community organizing and empowerment, and to carry out similar
landmark historical exhibits on Chinese American, Vietnamese American, and other groups. In a mighty
way, the "Executive Order 9066" exhibit affirmed the restorative power of the oral tradition and the first-
person voice of ordinary people. It gave sanction, in a museum setting, to the notion of students, non-

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professionals, and elders as scholars and lead decisionmakers, rather than token advisors.

Years later, Sally Yamasaki, one of the "9066" exhibition co-coordinators, still laughs when she reminds
me of a pronouncement I made to her and other exhibition organizers early on, when the group began to
doubt that they could handle the formidable responsibility of developing a credible display "Don't worry
about it," I said casually "It'll be easy What's a museum exhibit, anyway? You just take some pictures and
stuff and you stick it up on the wall. What's the big deal?"

In the years since the "Executive Order 9066" success, I've learned, somewhat grudgingly, that there is,
indeed, much more to exhibition creation than simply pasting pictures up on the wall. Still, museum
professionals would do well to remind themselves that what they do is neither so arcane nor so sacrosanct
that ordinary people can't be meaningful participants.

The second major exhibition developed through this community-organizing model was "One Song, Many
Voices." This display--which took its voice and themes from "Shared Dreams"--drew together pieces of
narrative history, more than a hundred photos, and dozens of artifacts, maps, timelines, and individual
stories in a sweeping overview of the two-hundred-year history of Asians and Pacific Islanders in
Washington State. The display was created in less than a year by a committee of over fifty people--
students, elders, leaders, artists, and activists--representing more than ten Asian and Pacific Islander
groups, working to gather artifacts and retrace their individual and collective histories.

On the heels of this pan-Asian display, the Museum completed its first major oral history project, focusing
on the early Chinese community in Seattle. An exhibition opened at the Museum in March 1994 and an
attractive book, copublished with the University of Washington Press, followed months later. The project
recorded the personal stories of seventy-one Chinese American elders who recounted untold details of
their lives, shedding new light on the emergence of the community in the era before the 1960s.

This Chinese oral history project had begun in 1990, after I had organized a group of twenty-five
volunteers--including staff at the Chinese Information and Service Center and organizers of a new Chinese
nursing home in Seattle--to do interviews, photography, and research. I came to the Museum, in part,
because of my desire to see the project become a program of the Museum and to deliver the photographs
and interviews into the collections department.

The interview subjects--some speaking in English, others in Toisanese, the language of most Chinese
immigrants to Seattle prior to the 1960s--described the steamship voyage to America, interrogation in the
immigration station, and the early days of Chinatown. They recalled their passage into adulthood--starting
school, adopting American identities, enduring the first harsh stabs of racial discrimination, working in
restaurants and salmon canneries, vying to gain independence from parents. They remembered the era of
World War II, when they served overseas, got jobs at the Boeing Company, and found access to work
arenas outside Chinatown.

The exhibition, converted into a traveling display, continues to make its way to libraries, community
colleges, malls, and community centers each year. The book, which sold out a year after it was issued, is
scheduled to be republished in expanded form in 2000. The momentum of this project spurred the
gathering of fifty new interviews with elders, additional portrait photographs, and mounds of valuable
historical documentation.

In 1996, the Museum hired Cassandra Chinn, an art history major at the University of Washington, as
exhibition developer. Chinn had begun at the Museum as a volunteer research coordinator in 1995. The
hiring of Chinn for this newly created position marked the first time the institution had ever committed
funds for a permanent curatorial position. However, unlike other traditional museums, Chinn was hired for
her community-organizing skills, not her academic training. "Here at the Museum, I see myself as a
technical support person," Chinn said. "In creating specific exhibitions, we work closely with community
members in spurring a broad-based dialogue, then creating a format for accurately and sensitively
representing the community's vision."

In recent years, many Museum exhibitions have been platforms for fierce public debate and community
action, such as "Out of Focus: Media Stereotypes of Asian Pacific Americans," a 1995 display that

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explored the continuing impact of racist images. The exhibition--guest curated by Connie So and Shawn
Wong, instructors at the University of Washington's Asian American Studies Division, and a committee of
student activists--served as the springboard for a host of public programs, including several book
readings, film showings, panel discussions, and the first-ever statewide Asian Pacific American leadership
conference, sponsored by the Washington State Commission on Asian American Affairs. "The Wing Luke
Asian Museum is a place where the public is not only informed of the past but reminded of continuing
issues and challenges such as racism, cultural identity, youth alienation, domestic violence, and workplace
injustice," Chinn remarked.

In 1997, the Museum created an exhibition and audio disc to celebrate the enduring value of music in the
lives of Asian Pacific Americans. The exhibition, "A Bridge Home: Music in the Lives of Asian Pacific
Americans," was curated by composer Byron Au Yong. This project represented the Museum's first effort
at integrating video footage and sound into an exhibition display space--key ingredients of displays that
have followed. The audio disc--the Museum's first foray into musical recording--features the performances
of twelve Asian Pacific American musicians and musical groups. "I had not found a way to link my musical
vulnerability with my chosen profession," said Au Yong, who combines a highly sensual, fragile mix of
Western and Asian musical elements, instruments, and voices in his own compositions. "Through this
project, I explored personal histories, came to appreciate people's lifelong commitment to amateur music-
making, and in the process reexamined my own reasons for pursuing music."

Even in its art exhibitions, the Museum has consciously sought to correct the miscasting of Asian Pacific
Americans. In 1996, for example, the Museum mounted "Beyond the Rock Garden: Craft Forms for a New
World," an exhibition featuring contemporary craft pieces by forty-four Asian Pacific American and
Canadian artists. The evocative three-dimensional works helped explode stereotypic preconceptions about
the work of Asian Pacific American artists. "Supposedly, most rock gardens exude a visual serenity, but
few in cities are fortunately situated in locations sealed off from the everyday activities of the world outside
the mind," wrote poet and painter Alan Chong Lau, introducing the exhibition. "It's the intrusions on our
quiet inward insularity--the unexpected pokes of surprise that jar the mind from enforced complacency--
that I think of as elements of this show."

Beyond mounting exhibitions and lining up speakers and performers for public programs--the bread and
butter of most museums--the Wing Luke Asian Museum began to move aggressively into nontraditional
areas of program activity. In 1994, two University students, Olivia Taguinod and Alina Hua, organized a
heritage tour that took a group of about twenty-five community members, young and old, on a weeklong
bus journey to early Chinese American mining, railroad, and settlement sites in Oregon and Idaho. The
moving journey, documented by several writers and a video team, enabled local Chinese Americans and
historians to rediscover themselves and to connect their lives to the past.

In 1994, the Museum began to cast its energies fully into the arena of video production with the hiring of
John Pai as media projects coordinator. In 1997, Pal teamed up with freelance producer/writer Shannon
Gee to create "Finding Home in Chinatown: The Kong Yick Buildings," an hour-long documentary that tells
the story of Seattle's Chinatown through the eyes of two decaying buildings constructed in 1916 by more
than 150 Chinese pioneers who pooled their money to create a place they could call home. "Finding
Home in Chinatown" has aired twice on the local PBS affiliate. "The Museum," Pai said, "now has within
its archives valuable video footage of elders at the Chinese family associations, several pioneer
businesses, a senior club, and the Luck Ngi Musical Club, which has performed traditional Chinese opera
and music since the 1930s. This will serve as valuable source material for future projects and
researchers."

In the past several years, the Museum has more actively worked to develop project partnerships with other
cultural groups, extending the educational reach of the institution. Today the Museum frequently works
with the Seattle Public Library and the Northwest Asian American Theatre on joint programs. In 1998, the
Museum came together with Living Voices and children's author Ken Mochizuki to produce "Within the
Silence: Share the Courage," an original multimedia performance piece that brings the story of the
Japanese American World War II experience to classrooms. To date, this portable performance piece has
reached more than twelve thousand people--mostly at school sites--in fifteen states and Vancouver, B.C.

In 1998, a catalogue originally issued in conjunction with the "Executive Order 9066" exhibition was

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expanded and published as a full-length book, Divided Destiny: A History of Japanese Americans in
Seattle, written by David Takami, a freelance journalist who served as oral historian and exhibit text writer
for "Executive Order 9066." It is being distributed in partnership with University of Washington Press, a
leading publisher of Asian American books.

The entry of the Museum into these many new areas of program work beyond exhibition development has
been made possible by the spirited involvement of local Asian Pacific Americans who have flocked to the
Museum in the past five years. Few have come with previous museum experience; few feel bound by
notions of what a museum should or shouldn't be doing. They aren't shy about sharing their ideas or
volunteering to initiate projects. The younger staff members--unlike stereotypic Generation X-ers--are full
of optimism, fervent about changing the world, armed with backgrounds in Asian American studies. They
have brought many friends, family members, and community associates into the Museum.

Pei Pei Sung, coordinator of a powerful Asian American veterans' oral history project scheduled for
completion in the fall of 1999, recalled her first visit to the Museum in 1996. Glen Daligdig, a University of
Washington classmate and part-time Museum staff member, invited her to come see the facility "He took
me inside, turned on the lights, and I saw the gallery," Sung recounted. "It was amazing. He showed me
the display case with his dad's Navy uniform and duffel bag. I saw the old menus. I saw the section on
discrimination. It all came together. In a very real way, history impacts everything we do today I am
constantly reminded of this through the work the Museum does."

Kristi Woo, the Museum's education associate, also came to the Museum as a University of Washington
student in 1996, conducting several interviews for the Chinese oral history project. "As I studied Asian
American history and worked on the oral histories, it was the first time I received validation of the
contributions of Asian Americans to the history of this country," Woo said. "I began to see the urgency of
talking to people in my community If you don't know your history, how can you move forward and shape
the future? When you share this knowledge with other people, you're inspired--you're never the same
again."

Asian Americans from other parts of the United States have been drawn to the Museum as well, seeing an
opportunity to contribute to development of a unique pan-Asian American cultural institution. John Pai, who
grew up in a Hispanic neighborhood in New York City with few Asians, said, "Pan of me was searching
for identity and a community I could call my home. I moved here because I found that Seattle was more
open than any other Asian community, and I discovered I could make a contribution in my work and help
increase the presence of Asian American voices."

Like Pai, Pacita Bunag, the Museum's comptroller, had lived and worked elsewhere before coming to the
Museum. Bunag, an immigrant, had spent twelve years as an activist in the national Filipino American
community, organizing around issues such as immigrant rights and discrimination. In the early 1980s, she
had worked at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. "That museum was established by rich people who
donated the collections and set up the foundation," Bunag said. "The Wing Luke is a people's museum,
where the community is involved in overall mission and the formation of exhibits."

In the past decade, the Museum has received numerous local and national awards for its leadership in
exhibition development and creation. In 1995, it was selected as one of four recipients of the National
Award for Museum Service, the highest recognition for museum excellence. This award was presented to
the Museum by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at a White House ceremony in which she
acknowledged the Museum's innovative work in creating intergenerational exhibits and helping redefine the
role of a community-based museum.

It has taken great patience, resourcefulness, and sensitivity to successfully pursue the Wing Luke Asian
Museum model of program development. Each project has been fraught with specific perils, sometimes
engendered by the difficulty of bringing to the same table individuals and groups with a long history of
distrust and hostility. "Executive Order 9066:50 Years Before and 50 Years After" presented the challenge
of securing the participation of both the Nisei veterans, who fought overseas during World War II to prove
their loyalty, and the "no-no boys," who resisted military service on grounds of conscience. To this day,
individuals from both groups remain bitterly distrustful of one another, but they came together to help
create "Executive Order 9066." "One Song, Many Voices" presented the challenge of a balanced

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representation of over ten different ethnic and linguistic groups, many of whom are recent immigrants
carrying the scars of rivalry and conflict in Asia.

Locally, the Museum remains a hub for the preservation and revitalization of the Chinatown-International
District, an economically distressed area of downtown Seattle populated largely by non-English-speaking
elderly and lowincome residents. The Museum has worked with businesses, residents, and social service
agencies to spur community pride, promote economic vitality, and educate visitors to the area. In 1994, the
Museum created "The International District: Portrait of a Community," a permanent display focusing on the
Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, and African American contributions to the building of the
neighborhood. In 1995, the Museum also created a permanent exhibit on Seattle's Nihonmachi, or
Japantown, and installed it in the lobby of the newly renovated Northern Pacific Hotel, which formerly
served as an important center for arriving Japanese immigrant laborers.

When longtime Asian American community businesses or family associations close their doors, the
Museum dispatches a small crew to go out and conduct interviews, videotape the site, and retrieve
artifacts otherwise destined for the garbage heap. In the past several years, for example, the Museum has
documented four historic sites in the Chinatown-International District: International Realty, Star Tofu, Wa
Sang Groceries, and the Mar Society Family Association. "The Museum was there before the doors
closed, not only collecting business records and equipment but also taping personal reflections on
Chinatown past and present, even recipes for how to make tofu by hand with the donated equipment,"
Melanie Apostol, the Museum's public relations manager, recounted. "The Museum's database and map of
businesses in the Chinatown-International District are the definitive source for this history."

While the Museum collects and preserves historical artifacts--there are nearly nine thousand artifacts,
twelve hundred photographs, and shelves of archival personal records in our collections department--the
work of the Museum staff is focused more broadly on connecting these objects to the stories and lives of
individuals and families in the community Oral history, the audiotaping and videotaping of personal stories,
has been a vital tool in creating strong first-person viewpoints to complement exhibition artifacts. In
exhibition after exhibition, the Museum supplants the authoritative voice of the academic historian--the
traditional device of other history museums--with the intimate voices of the community.

"The current goal is to bring all these rich resources of information on Asian American communities
together to give researchers a fuller picture of their experience," Ruth Vincent, curator of collections, said.
"Our artifacts, photographs, documents, oral histories, videotapes, articles, information files, and books will
constitute a resource which is not available anywhere else." Adds Bob Fisher, collections associate, "The
future goal is to collect government and academic studies, Asian American works of literature and
scholarship, and periodicals and articles on local and national events."

Organizationally, the Museum has matured and grown in size, most dramatically during my tenure as
executive director, as the institution has shifted its resources and focus to community-based projects. The
Museum has expanded from three staff members, twenty regular volunteers, and a budget of $130,000
when I started in 1991 to seventeen full-time staff, four part-time staff, seventy-five regular volunteers, and
a budget of $850,000 today Over time, the Museum has been transformed from a tiny museum, similar in
scale to many volunteer historical societies, into a cutting-edge cultural institution that leads the nation in
effectively linking cultural expression to community responsibility

This has set the stage for a capital campaign to develop a much larger museum facility in the Chinatown-
International District in the next several years. Today, within its 7,200 square feet, the Museum houses a
collections area, a small library/resource center, a classroom, several permanent and changing exhibits,
and staff offices. In the past several years, as the institution has grown, the Museum has acquired
additional off-site office and storage space.

The Museum is now engaged in site selection, fundraising feasibility, and long-range program planning.
"We have been described as a family with five children living in a one-bedroom apartment," said Beth
Takekawa, a Museum associate director, who helped engineer a successful organizational development
plan in 1998 that included realignment of Board and staff roles. "We are readying the organization to
upgrade our substandard quarters to provide community gathering, performance, and exhibition spaces
adequate to house our expanding audiences and programs."

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The growth of the Museum is fueled not only by continuing program successes and organizational
maturation but also by the astonishing proliferation of the Asian Pacific American community In
Washington State, the Asian Pacific American population has swelled from 53,400 in 1970 to 323,000 in
1995, a sixfold increase. By the year 2010, the total Asian Pacific American population is expected to
climb to over 544,000. The Museum plays an ever more significant role in educating the public about the
culture and history of Asian Pacific Americans and building bridges of understanding between older and
newer ethnic groups that have little history of cooperation.

As in other Asian American communities across the country, the sweeping immigration law of 1965
resulted in new waves of immigrants and refugees from many new parts of China, the Philippines, Korea,
and other parts of Asia. The end of the Vietnam War in 1975 brought in new communities from Southeast
Asia. An increasingly prosperous community-new immigrants from a more mobile social class and highly
educated American-born Asians--is now scattered across urban and suburban neighborhoods throughout
the state.

The strongest base of support for the Museum remains within the older Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino
American communities, those with the longest history in this region. But the Museum has taken bold steps
to build stronger relationships with the Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian, South Asian, and more recent
Chinese communities.

In the past several years, two of the Museum's most powerful public programs have involved the telling of
individual stories of refugee survival: one, Daran Kravanh, a Cambodian musician who miraculously
escaped the Khmer Rouge massacre, and, two, Richard Chen, a boat person refugee from Vietnam,
whose family was dramatically rescued at sea. In 1997, Kravanh shared his story with a hushed audience
crammed into the Museum; he played the accordion in memory of his family members, all murdered under
Khmer Rouge rule. In 1998, under the auspices of the Museum, Chen was reunited with a U.S. Navy
crew member involved in the harrowing rescue of Chen and his family twenty years earlier.

In 1995, the Museum created "Twenty Years After the Fall of Saigon: The Vietnamese American Story," a
poignant display about those who fled to Washington State after the end of the Vietnam War, using stories
and artifacts from more than a hundred local individuals and families. Guest curators Khanh Nguyen and
his daughter Ann-Marie worked with a contingent of students to bring this exhibition to life.

And in 1998, the Museum created "Golden Roots: Korean Americans in Washington State," a bilingual
exhibition rich in artifacts, individual stories, artwork, and history. Airyang Julia Park, guest curator, worked
closely with eleven Korean community advisors, including key elders, in developing the exhibition themes
and gathering oral histories and objects for display.

Both "Twenty Years After The Fall of Saigon" and "Golden Roots" were difficult, landmark projects that
reached deeply into the hearts of recently arrived populations. Both projects allowed two relatively insular
communities to present original portraits of themselves and to reflect on the emotional journey from Asia to
the Pacific Northwest. Prior to the creation of "Golden Roots," Park said, no museum in the area had
thought of developing a project "that involved lots of people from the Korean community. Usually an expert
shows up and tries to tell the story. The more usual scenario is that a few wealthy people donate objects
and then you have an exhibit. Our way was more labor-intensive, involved more headaches, but was
ultimately more rewarding."

"With a largely immigrant community," Park added, "they haven't had the space to reflect deeply on issues
of culture and history and figure out how to characterize their community. How much should they share
with the larger community and in what light? They're also more used to working in situations where the
museum is the authority--is in charge. Korean Americans are also unfamilar with working in a pan-Asian
setting. These were some of the challenges of the project."

In 1999, with the support of major national grants from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund and the
Rockefeller Foundation, the Museum is continuing its two-pronged strategy of organizing cultural
programming in both the older and newer communities. "First, the Museum will continue to work with the
older communities by developing programs to deepen relationships with the third, fourth, and fifth
generations," said Takekawa. "Second, the Museum will work with the newer immigrant and refugee

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communities to establish new ties through partnership programs such as creation of a permanent core
exhibition on the Southeast Asian refugee camps and the settlement of refugees in Washington State."

As we enter the new millennium, the Museum has become the cultural touchstone for both the American-
born and foreign-born Asian Pacific American populations. These groups still wonder about the past,
search for the balance between cultures, fight recalcitrant discrimination battles, and ponder what it means
to call America home. The Museum--its programs and project initiatives--provides channels for focused
discussions that illuminate these and other questions. Individuals who have believed passionately in the
mission of the institution have nourished these continuing dialogues by actively participating in the
Museum's development.

Gloria Lung Wakayama, president of the Board of Trustees, said she became involved with the Museum
after she finished her college education in California in 1982. She immediately returned to Seattle, where
her family has deep roots. "For me the institution bridges the gap between the generations--my great-
grandparents, grandparents, parents, my children, and my children's future children," Wakayama said.

Helen Kay, another board member who has served on the Board since 1979, said, "It's important that
there be a place where our history can be documented and preserved so that our pioneers get the credit
they deserve for the contributions they made to America. In that way, we develop a sense of pride that we
are linked to the past and those who have gone before us."

Patricia Lee, a frequent visitor to the Museum, said the institution is important to her because of her three-
year-old daughter, adopted from Korea. "I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to take my daughter
to the Museum to see the lion dance, taiko drummers, artwork, photo exhibits, and a history that is
inclusive of her," Lee said. "As she grows older, the Museum will mean even more to her as a place
where the story of what it means to be American of Asian descent in this country is told, discussed,
understood, and respected. More importantly, that story will be told by those who lived it."

Simply put, the Museum provides the space for each generation to rediscover and celebrate its stories in
its own voices, and to connect the experience of the past to the present and future. How true we remain to
this endeavor will determine the institution's ongoing relevance and its enduring value to those who will
follow in our footsteps. That is my challenge, and the challenge to each of us who work in the museum
field.

~~~~~~~~
By Ron Chew

Copyright of Chinese America: History & Perspectives is the property of Chinese Historical Society of
America. The copyright in an individual article may be maintained by the author in certain cases. Content
may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
Source: Chinese America: History & Perspectives, 2000, p62, 7p
Item: 3783159

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