New issue of UCLA’s AAPI Nexus explores Art and Cultural Institutions
Melany Dela Cruz-Viesca, firstname.lastname@example.org
For Immediate Use
UCLA Asian American Studies Center- From Sandra Oh of Grey’s Anatomy to American Idol’s Sanjaya, there has been an increase in the presence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in popular media. Unfortunately, popular images of AAPIs have been based on simplistic stereotypes of perpetual foreigners or disease-bearing poor or unfair competitors in the marketplace or “model minorities,” images that have had serious negative implications for AAPI communities. Building on the celebration of Asia Pacific American Heritage Month last May, the current issue of AAPI Nexus (5:1) entitled “AAPIs and Cultural Institutions,” features how organizations like museums, traveling exhibits, performance troupes, and libraries represent AAPI communities and their diverse experiences.
“The struggle to make cultural institutions more representative and accountable is part and parcel of the larger struggle by people of color and their allies for equality and justice,” write the issue co-editors Paul Ong of UCLA and Franklin Odo, the Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Program. In the early years, activist AAPIs lobbied for change from the outside, participating in protest politics against mainstream institutions. More recently, however, “they have worked their way into the “belly of the beast” and equally important have established parallel and counter organizations.”
In the article “The Challenges of Displaying Asian America,” art historian ShiPu Wang writes from a curator’s point of view, examining the obstacles and reasons behind the lack of exhibitions of AAPI works in the United States, such as conservation issues and problems in finding lost works in the first place. This is especially true of pre-World War II artists like Lewis Suzuki, whose graphics carried unwavering pro-labor, pro-equality messages and Filipino American painter Carlos Maganti Tagaroma Carvajal, whose work challenged the marriage of Catholicism and European/American Imperialism and its impact on powerless people.
The article “Libraries as Contested Community and Cultural Space” by Clara Chu and Todd Honma explored how the Bruggemeyer Memorial Library in Monterey Park, CA became a battleground to reclaim “community, access, and representation of Asian Americans.” In the mid-1980s, many long-time residents of the city grew alarmed at the increase of Chinese immigrants. The hostility of English language-only advocates spilled towards library policies, as the Bruggemeyer Library began to carry more foreign language books to meet the needs of its changing demographics.
Although the Monterey Park community has moved on, the issue resurfaced again two years ago over a proposed reveals unresolved issues regarding community identity. Chu and Honma’s article shows how ethnic communities such as Asian Americans can “effectively wield political power to claim a rightful civic space.”
While many of these cultural institutions are located in cities with large AAPI populations,
John P. Rosa, in his article “Small Numbers/Big City: Innovative Presentations of Pacific Islander Art and Culture in Arizona,” examines how the small but growing community in Phoenix, AZ has sustained, developed, and preserved its culture and art in the absence of permanent cultural museums. Phoenix community groups use small, temporary displays at annual AAPI cultural festivals. One approach is a “museum on wheels”-a used tour bus filled with certified reproductions of artifacts on loan from the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. The annual Arizona Aloha Festival also features performances from Tongan choirs based in Tempe as well as ki ho`alu (slack key guitar) artist and Phoenix resident Dana “Moon” Kahele. A quilting group and a canoe-paddling club are further activities that let AAPIs share the “Aloha spirit” with their fellow residents.
Together, the articles in this issue show how AAPI concerns have become more accepted by cultural institutions, ethnic organizations have become more institutionalized, and AAPI activists have become more professionalized. However, editors Ong and Ono warn of a potential downside, of resting on the laurels of these successes.
“Incorporation of AAPIs individually and organizationally by this nation’s cultural sector can lead to political complacency and isolation from the broader social movement long before the ultimate goals are achieved,” the editors write. “The larger challenge before us, then, is renewing the passion for progressive social change.”
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