Advocating for Asian and Pacific Islander American Places During a Pandemic
This Preservation Month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is celebrating People Saving Places, a national high-five to everyone doing the great work of preserving historic places—in ways big and small—and inspiring others to do the same. Throughout the month we are featuring various organizations and individuals who have been tirelessly doing the work of preservation, particularly in the last two and a half years. We wanted to provide space, a victory lap so to speak, for them to share their successes, challenges, and hopes for the future.
In January 2020, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP) convened our biennial National Forum on Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation in Honolulu, Hawaii. In late January into early February, a few hundred attendees enjoyed the warm weather at the East-West Center’s Conference Center, designed by the renowned Chinese American architect I.M. Pei.
A few weeks later in Washington, D. C. I met up with two APIAHiP Board Members at Old Ebbitt Grill, a historic seafood bar a few steps away from the White House. It was the day San Francisco placed lockdown orders for what was then a potential pandemic that we now call COVID-19. The air was somber and tense, and little did we know that our lives would abruptly shift into a global lockdown that transformed how we transported ourselves and interacted with others. For APIAHiP, we were relieved to have our National Forum duties completed with not another convening scheduled until 2022.
APIAHiP was started in 2007, and our strengths have been in our ability to elevate local preservation efforts into the national spotlight by interacting and engaging with Asian and Pacific Islander American communities. Our work is three-pronged: (1) National Forum on Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation, (2) education programming, and (3) advocacy efforts to support local, state, and federal preservation policies and landmark designations.
Like most organizations across the world, the way we did this work had to change overnight.
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Going Virtual: Programming to Advocacy
In May 2020, we tested out virtual platforms and hosted a virtual webinar on Zoom on the history of pandemics and anti-Asian racism and violence as demonstrated in Chinese American and Japanese American communities in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The webinar entitled “EPIDEMIC OF HATE: Stories of Racism, Resiliency, and Resistance in Asian American Communities” with Drs. Nayan Shah (University of Southern California), Laureen Hom (Cal Poly Pomona), Kristen Hayashi (Japanese American National Museum), and Ed Tepporn (Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation). The timely event focused on the fear of Asians and Pacific Islanders being long rooted in American history of prejudicial policies.
From Angel Island in San Francisco, and Kalaupapa in Molokaʻi to Chinatowns, and Japantowns, anti-Asian and Pacific Islander xenophobia has a history rooted in decades of discriminatory and biased American public health and immigration policies that have targeted (and continue to target) immigrants from Asia because of the perceived threats they pose to America’s dominance domestically and abroad. It is in these places that we find stories of resiliency and resistance, including Chinese Hospital in San Francisco and the Japanese Hospital in Los Angeles.
These historic places not only served Asian American communities during times of public health crises but continued to provide public health services to local communities in need. Historic sites like Angel Island serve as reminders of the relationship between xenophobia and public health, and the role history and historic sites can play during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The webinar was a success, drawing an audience of over hundred and allowed APIAHiP to explore the potential of Zoom as a video conference platform for our educational programming efforts to bring together scholars to interact with the public in talking about the importance of history and place.
We pivoted our advocacy efforts as well. Zoom provided APIAHiP opportunities to advocate in City Hall Zoom meetings from the City of Los Angeles’ Cultural Heritage Commission hearings for local Historic Cultural Monument designations to San Francisco’s Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Commission meetings.
APIAHiP supported the naming of “Kala Bagai Way” to the City of Berkeley’s City Councilmembers and Amache National Historic Site Act. APIAHiP was able to advocate for the Japanese American Confinement Education (JACE) Act in meeting with Congressional staff. We submitted an application to place a stay on a proposed demolition of Hung Sa Dahn, a Korean American resource located in South Los Angeles and have witnessed the power of Zoom with multiple meetings held for this nomination, including a hearing with over 75 individuals providing public comment with Korean language translation services and 40 letters of support submitted to the City of Los Angeles.
As we slowly ease out of COVID-19 restrictions and navigate a new sense of normalcy, we look forward to hosting our 2022 National APIA Historic Preservation Forum, to be held in Lowell, Massachusetts on July 22-24. We hope to continue to provide virtual opportunities and look forward to seeing old and new friends at the next Forum!
Michelle G. Magalong, PhD is President of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP) and currently is a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Maryland’s Historic Preservation program.
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