By JUDY LU
The Library of Congress hosted a national conference on Oct. 4 and 5, 2007, to discuss the establishment of an Asian Pacific American (APA) Collection to be part of the Library’s Asian Division. The Library of Congress currently houses some of the largest collections of Asian materials outside of Asia.
The conference was attended by a number of members of Congress, prominent leaders from the APA community and representatives from several major APA studies programs across the United States. The audience was inspired by enthusiastic speakers who outlined their vision for an APA Collection in the Library of Congress.
Asian Division Chief Hwa-Wei Lee, who convened the conference, welcomed the audience and participants and thanked Librarian of Congress James H. Billington for his support.
In his opening remarks, the Librarian said, “Today, Asian Pacific Americans are among the fastest-growing ethnic minorities in this country. Many have excelled in government, education, medicine, science, technology, architecture, business, arts and sports. The historical records of these early immigrants and their struggles are at risk and should be collected and preserved.”
Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao praised the historic gathering.
“It is time for a conference like this one. Asians and Pacific Islanders have been coming to America for hundreds of years and are a proud part of the American experience,” said Chao. “One critical link is between the Library’s collections and the rapidly growing number of Asian American studies programs at American universities.” She added, “America’s diversity is a core strength.”
Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.) spoke at the welcoming banquet that preceded the conference. Five years earlier, Honda had urged the Library’s Asian Division chief to propose the establishment of an APA Collection at the Library.
Rep. Honda set the tone for the conference by saying, “I am thrilled that the Library of Congress is taking steps to launch a collection on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. As an educator, I know the importance of teaching our young people the histories of all of America’s diverse communities. By preserving our collective knowledge, we can begin to tell a richer American story, build upon our achievements and learn from injustices of the past. I look forward to the establishment of the collection and seeing it grow.”
As chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), Rep. Honda commended the attendees for “recognizing the need to develop and coordinate such a national collection.” He added that the collection “is a necessary and appropriate progression for the Library, one that will centralize resources about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
The Librarian of Congress opened the first day of the conference by welcoming its speakers, including Representatives David Wu (D-Ore.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
Rep. Wu, who likened the conference to the 1776 assembly, quoted Thomas Jefferson. “You have become in Jefferson’s words, ‘a small band of people who [are making] a bold move.’”
Recalling personal and family experiences, he emphasized that careful preservation will allow “the complex history of the Asian Pacific American experience to be told and retold for generations to come.”
Rep. Hirono pointed out that “our stories must be collected to make others aware of our presence in this country.” She also emphasized “the very real and meaningful significance of having an Asian Pacific American Collection,” noting that its addition to the Library of Congress will be “a powerful signal to Asian Pacific Americans and the wider population that we have arrived.”
Both Wu and Hirono, members of CAPAC, praised the coming together of Asian studies scholars, researchers and noted members from academe to explore what the Asian division chief described in the proposed plan as “a national distributed and networked APA collection.”
For his part, Lee announced the active partnership between the Library’s Asian Division and the University of Maryland’s Asian American Studies Program in the future development and direction of the national APA collection.
Associate Librarian for Library Services Deanna Marcum opened the second session of the conference.
“The Library of Congress is determined to bring this important aspect of our nation’s heritage under closer scrutiny and make a more concentrated effort to preserve the records of Asian Pacific Americans,” said Marcum. “I am particularly grateful to all of you for attending today.”
Frank Wu, dean of Wayne State University Law School, delivered the keynote speech. He reminded the audience of the racial violence that killed Vincent Chin, a Chinese American. [The murder, which occurred in Detroit in 1982, was perpetrated by laid-off auto workers who allegedly blamed the Japanese for the decline of the auto industry.] Wu spoke of changing the racial paradigm from just black and white issues to include a “panoramic racial world.” He urged Asian Americans to reject the conventional response to racial issues and instead encouraged the “diversity among us.” Asian Americans have a unique “bridging role” between blacks and whites and should be wary of cultivating an “Anglo-Asian overclass.”
The effort by the Asian Division to compile an Asian Pacific American Resource Guide to the Library’s APA materials was also introduced during the conference. Attendees were provided with a CD containing more than 500 pages of bibliographic sources, including online resources.
Conference attendees were treated to a display in the Asian Reading Room titled “Don’t Worry, Yoshio—You Are an American,” which featured a selection of children’s books by Japanese American authors and illustrators.
Other speakers at the two-day conference included Betty Lee Sung of the Asian American/Asian Research Institute; Franklin Odo, director of the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Program; L. Ling-chi Wang of the University of California, Berkeley; Don Nakanishi and Marjorie Lee of UCLA; Kent Ono, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign; Larry Shinagawa, director of Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland; Evelyn Hu-deHart of Boston University; Prema Kurien of Syracuse University; Krystyn R. Moon of the University of Mary Washington; Gen. John Fugh (Ret.) of the Committee of 100; Ginny Gong and Michael Lin of the Organization of Chinese Americans; Katy Goring of the U.S. Indonesian Society; Juanita Tamayo-Lott and Jeremy Wu of the U.S. Census Bureau; Frank Joseph Schulman, president of the Library of Congress Asian Division Friends Society; Rama Deva of the Indian American community and former publisher of Indic Magazine; and Reme Grefalda, a cultural activist from the Filipino American community.
Judy Lu is head of Collection Services in the Library’s Asian Division.