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9.13.2010

guest post: the call of the mall


I'm on vacation! Taking a much-needed break. But don't worry. While I'm away, I've enlisted some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here's Konrad Ng on canonizing Asian America.

I am grateful to Phil for inviting me to mind the blog for one posting during his trip. He wrote, "you can write about whatever you want" but to "please keep in mind, my mom reads my blog." I smiled.

Note to Angry Asian Man mom: Please be proud of your Angry Asian Man son! He is a good man.


During the Labor Day weekend, two news items could have been flagged
as being achievements for Asian American. The New York Times
published a piece about the rise of Asian Americans in the world of fashion design and Sonya "the Black Widow" Thomas, a woman of Korean descent, was crowned the 2010 U.S. Chicken Wing Eating champion.


OK, Sonya Thomas's ascent in the world of competitive eating, though amusing, may not be the best example of an Asian American accomplishment that will have lasting and widely reverberating cultural impact but the article about fashion designers Richard Chai, Jason Wu and Alexander Wang makes me wonder about the labor of canonizing Asian America.

This summer, I spent a few months at the helm of the Smithsonian Asian
Pacific American Program (www.apa.si.edu), a small program tasked with the very big mission of seeding the Asian Pacific American experience in the collections, programs and exhibitions of our nation's museums, centers and programs. One question that was posed to me on a regular occasion was this: Is the building of a national museum for Asian Pacific America a question of "if" or "when"?

There is no simple answer nor is there broad support for such a concept as this Washington Post article points out.

But I am always curious about what the questioner thinks.

In our lifetime, our National Mall will have a National Museum of the American Indian (http://www.nmai.si.edu), which opened in 2004. A National Museum of African American History and Culture, slated to open in 2016. In 2008, the National Latino Museum Bill was signed into law and the Presidential Commission
to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of the American
Latino will present its recommendations for the National Museum of the American Latino Community later this month. Except for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, there is no movement or body exploring the possibility of a national museum for Asian Pacific America.

Of course, there is no shortage of cultural organizations tasked with documenting and studying the Asian Pacific American experience such as the Museum of Chinese in America, the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, the Japanese American National Museum or beloved media centers such as the Center for Asian American Media, Visual Communications and Asian CineVision.

But, in a time when the creation of a national museum will cost more than half a billion dollars, how will we canonize Asian America? What will address the issues of inclusion and diversity while also be enduring and relevant? What will find broad political, community and corporate support? In our lifetime, what will you want to see on our National Mall?

I am curious about what you think.

Konrad Ng is a professor of creative media at the University of Hawai'i and Senior Advisor to the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. He cut his teeth as film festival programmer, museum film curator and political campaign guy.