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Bill to study creating Asian American-Pacific Islander museum advances

By Grace Deng, Medill News Service
Bill to study creating Asian American-Pacific Islander museum advances
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders learn about their heritage at local events, and a museum in the United States highlighting their cultures might be on the horizon. Photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Blackwell/Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- A bipartisan effort to study the creation of a national museum dedicated to Asian American and Pacific Islander history and culture has advanced unanimously out of a House committee.

"We are one step closer toward creating a national museum dedicated to AAPI history and culture. The journey will be long but we are moving toward a physical location that commemorates the contributions of the AAPI community," U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), the bill's sponsor, tweeted after passage by the House Committee on Natural Resources last Wednesday.

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The bill has 103 co-sponsors, mostly Democrats, including 25 from California and 14 from New York.

The museum would be a way for Asian Americans to claim American identity, said Frank Wu, the first Asian American president of Queens College of the City University of New York and one of Meng's constituents.

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"What this museum will do is establish that Asian Americans are Americans, have been Americans, and have been around a very long time," Wu said.

Wu said that even Asian Americans are often unaware of their own history.

Despite studying Asian America and civil rights, Wu said even he wasn't aware Asian Americans fought in the civil war until the National Park Service put together a book about Asian and Pacific Islander soldiers who fought for both the Union and the Confederacy.

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Many regional museums focus on specific Asian American ethnic groups, but the Chinese Historical Society of America's Nathaniel Jue said a national museum could help people understand the wide-ranging scope of Asian American stories and contributions.

"This place will serve as a sort of focal point for where these narratives can be pulled together," Jue said. "Instead of just the Filipino museum in Los Angeles or just the Vietnamese museum in Louisiana."

The process from the bill of consideration to the creation of a national museum often takes years, said Konrad Ng, executive director at the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design. He added that other museums, like the National Museum of the American Latino, have taken decades to establish.

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"As diverse and heterogeneous as Asian Americans are, I think it's fair to say there some common understanding of what it means to be American, and that feeling of inclusion in the American story," Ng said. "If this museum becomes a reality, it's a moment for Asian Americans to feel proud about."

Founder of Stop AAPI Hate, Russell Jeung, said an Asian American museum is particularly important amid the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic.

"A lot of the racism is due to the sense that Asians don't belong, that we're perpetual foreigners," Jeung said. "So a museum that acknowledges our presence and our sense of belonging is even more meaningful and needed."

The Smithsonian Institution, which hosts a Asian Pacific American migratory museum, said it does not comment on pending legislation, but noted that the last three museums were preceded by reports from the kind of commission Meng's bill would establish.

"The creation of a particular museum for a diverse community is always a first step, but it doesn't mean it's the last step in understanding America," said Ng, who was once the director of the Smithsonian's Asian Pacific American Center.

Meng's office said it hopes to bring the bill, HR-3525, to a full vote in May, and its staff is working with House leadership to finalize a date.

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A companion bill has not been introduced in the Senate.

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