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“Roots” exhibit displays rich history of LA Asian American movements

A new exhibit at the Chinese American Museum showcases radical movements of the Asian American community in LA During the 1960s to 80s.

"Roots" Understanding the Asian American Movements that took place  in Los Angeles

"Roots" Understanding the Asian American Movements that took place in Los Angeles

Mimi Li

Mimi Li

"Roots" Understanding the Asian American Movements that took place in Los Angeles

Mimi Li, Staff Reporter

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The term “Asian American” was coined around 1968 but little is known about the community involvement and radical activism that shaped that identity. The Chinese American Museum’s newest exhibit, “Roots: Asian American Movements in Los Angeles 1968-80s,” aims to provide a visual portrayal of how Asian America in Los Angeles came to be. Young Asian American activists from the 1960s onward fought against the Vietnam War, advocated for Asian American Studies in the classroom, battled gentrification and eviction of community members in Little Tokyo, and much more. The exhibit opened on Jan. 19, with an opening reception in the historic Pico House.

“[Roots] opens at the Chinese American Museum on Jan. 19, 2017, one day before Donald Trump becomes the 45h president of the United States,” said CAM curator, Steve Wong. “The timing of the exhibition is mostly coincidental, as we have been working with guest curator Ryan Wong for over four years to make this exhibition happen, but the exhibit could not have come at a more significant time: it is time for a new generation of Asian Pacific Americans to learn about the Asian American movement, to examine how a generation stood up to oppression.”

The title of the exhibit comes from the 1971 student activist publication of the same name, published by the UCLA Asian American Studies Department. The course reader, a compilation of articles and poems that Asian American students faced, was created due to a lack of accessible materials that addressed Asian American issues. The book is available at the Cal State LA John F. Kennedy Memorial Library.

“From Little Tokyo to Chinatown to Historic Filipinotown to the West Side, in solidarity with Latino, Black, feminist, and international struggles, Los Angeles was a crucial and dynamic hub for defining Asian America,” said guest curator, Ryan Lee Wong.

Wong, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, is a writer and researcher of radical Asian American history and a visiting scholar from the Asian Pacific American Institute at New York University. Having curated a similar exhibit in the East Coast, he brought this exhibit to CAM. The exhibit, which was continuously delayed due to lack of funding, was completed in one and a half years. The museum is still $15,000 short on funds and is seeking donations.

“This is the first museum exhibition exploring the [Asian American] movement in Los Angeles, and I hope it is the first of many,” says Wong. “In this moment, we are in some very challenging years… and if people believe that history is made by presidents and cabinets alone, we should indeed be very afraid, but we know that’s not how history happened, that we have always resisted and struggled and will continue to these four years and beyond.”

Resistance was a major theme in the Asian American movement in Los Angeles. The Asian American movement as a whole was formed by smaller movements in the Asian American community in Los Angeles: the anti-war movement, the student movement, the artistic movement, and the feminist and LGBTQ movements. Many young Asian Americans in the 1960s became involved in politics when they saw and questioned America fighting the war in Vietnam. They became activists who recognized imperialism, anti-Asian racism, and the intersectional struggles between race, gender, and class.

“It’s the legacy of resistance that reminds me why I’m in academia, studying Asian American Studies and community health,” says Frances Huynh, a recent graduate of the University of California, Riverside, and a community activist with the Chinatown Community for Equitable Development. “I organize for a vision of communities that can continue to exist for working class residents of color because you [Asian American movement veterans] are the ones that fed us and sustained us all this time.”

The exhibition was sponsored by the Friends of the Chinese American Museum, California Humanities, Munson Kwok and Suellen Cheng, Michael Duchemin, and El Pueblo de Los Angeles. Community partners include Visual Communications, API Equality LA, Southeast Asian Community Alliance, Little Tokyo Service Center, and UCLA Asian American Studies Center.

“Roots” will continue to be on display on the second floor of CAM. Museum hours are from 10am to 3pm.

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“Roots” exhibit displays rich history of LA Asian American movements