Washington, DC – US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on Thursday (May 9) underscored the importance of efforts to commemorate and interpret Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) culture and history, particularly through the National Park Service, in order to tell a more complete story of those who have contributed to the nation’s rich heritage.
Highlighting the intricate weaving of Asian American Pacific Islanders in the social fabric of the United States, Secretary Jewell said, “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have long been leaders in every aspect of our social fabric – in government, business, science, medicine, the arts, education and our armed forces.”
“From Angel Island, where more than one million Asian immigrants arrived on these shores, to the Chinese immigrants who helped build the railroads across the country, to the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, these stories are all important threads in the great American tapestry,” the secretary added.
The White House Forum, which was hosted by the Department of the Interior, along with the White House Office of Public Engagement and the White House AAPI Initiative, attracted scholars and leaders from the AAPI community to the celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and to discuss the National Park Service’s new Asian American Pacific Islander Theme Study.
The month of May was chosen because the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the US on May 7, 1843, and because construction of the Transcontinental Railroad was officially completed on May 10, 1869. Most of the workers who laid the tracks were immigrants from China.
Secretary Jewell particularly stressed the importance of the National Park Service, and their unique position in telling “a more complete story of those who have contributed our nation’s rich heritage.”
Moreover, Franklin Odo, former head of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, is overseeing a team of scholars to develop a theme study and other materials over the next 18 months to further the understanding of how the National Park Service might appropriately identify and understand AAPI heritage and culture.
Jewell noted that the theme study is part of an overall effort by the Obama administration to commemorate the stories and contributions of women and minorities that have been not been fully recognized in the past.
“The Asian American Pacific Islander Theme Study is an important first step in what must be a longer journey to more completely document and preserve Asian American Pacific Islander heritage sites across our country,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.
“The National Park Service remains committed that our parks and historic preservation programs reflect the diversity of the American experience, and this study will allow us to add to the growing body of resources that tell the AAPI story,” Jarvis added.
Commenting on the ongoing study, Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget at the Interior Department, Rhea Suh, said, “This is a pivotal moment for our community – the National Park Service AAPI Theme Study is an invitation for all of us to share the incredible contributions we have made to our country’s rich cultural and natural heritage. I am proud and honored to be part of the Interior’s efforts to build a department that reflects the needs and diversity of America, and look forward to continuing this conversation.”
Noting steps already taken to represent a more inclusive story of the AAPI contributions to US history, Secretary Jewell drew attention to the designation earlier this year of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle as an affiliated area of the National Park System, which recognized the national significance and mission of the museum.
Secretary Jewell also recognized the Interior’s distinct responsibility, through the Office of Insular Affairs, to work with the nation’s island areas to empower them and to help find solutions to their most pressing challenges.
“The federal government under this administration, through its various initiatives, is working daily to find innovative approaches to highlight and showcase some of our unique cultural sites and historic artifacts that celebrate Americans in and from the Asia Pacific region,” said Eileen Sobeck, Acting Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs.
Summing up the event, Sobeck concluded, “In many ways our gathering is a reflection of our commitment to this initiative, but also a demonstration of our collective duty to holistically represent and celebrate peoples from Asian American Pacific Islander identities.”