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A Day in the Life of Asian Pacific America 2014 | Photos taken throughout the world on a single day. Curated by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.
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Photo by Kristin Kouke

On May 10, 2014 more than 500 people captured over 2,000 photos and videos throughout the course of a single day.

Every 4th of July, we celebrate what Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the early 19th Century: the birth of America’s improbable and fascinating experiment in democratic life. On July 4th, 2014, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center presents an experiment in cultural democracy – the first crowdsourced gallery of the Asian Pacific American experience around the world as lived on one day.

The day was May 10, 2014, the 145th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railway. The Transcontinental Railway was an unprecedented national project that relied heavily on Chinese labor, but whose Asian history was excluded from its visual documentation in the iconic picture of the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory, Utah taken on May 10, 1869. This crowdsourced experiment is motivated by this exclusion.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center issued a call to populate the online world with Asian Pacific American representations of life on a day when Asian Pacific American experiences were historically spectral. On May 10, 2014, over 500 people joined the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center for A Day in the Life of Asian Pacific America by capturing over 2,000 photos and videos throughout the course of a single day. Works were submitted from everywhere – throughout the United States and from around the world. This exhibit features a small selection of the work and remains an experiment in envisioning the Asian Pacific America experience as a vast and complex identity, with a history that grows richer and more complicated with each new day.

A message from Helen Zia Award-winning author, journalist, activist and Fulbright Scholar.

Last year, the National Park Service launched a special study to identify Asian American and Pacific Islander places, peoples and cultures in the American landscape. As one of the speakers, I got up and sang a verse from This Land Is Your Land. The last time I sang in public I was in the 5th grade. At this inaugural event, I hoped to underscore the invisibility of places in this land where people who look like us once walked, lived and contributed to the building of America.

In my mind’s eye, a day in the life of Asian Pacific America begins in Nueva España, where Chinese barbers cut the hair of Spanish conquistadores in the 1600s; in Louisiana, where Manilamen harvested shrimp in the 1700s; in Oahu, where Queen Liliʻuokalani reigned over the Hawai’ian Kingdom in the 1800s. Or on the battlefields of the Civil War, where hundreds of Pacific Islander and Asian men fought in uniforms of blue or gray. And in the 20th Century, when new waves of AAPIs strove to break out of exclusion, to unfurl their wings in this democracy.

In this new millennium, AAPIs are seizing the lens of history, in stark contrast to the days when the railroad workers were barred from the camera view, to be erased from the proud tracks they had carved through the sheer granite of the Rockies.

On May 10, 2014 nearly twenty million Asian American and Pacific Islanders started the day from every corner of this vast country and beyond to the far reaches of the globe where they are Yanks abroad. Our “Breakfasts of Champions” are as down home as pho and naan, dim sum and kimchee, poi and samosas, adobo and sushi — or as “exotic” as Spam and green tea lattes. We spend the day at home and in schools, factories, labs, farms, courtrooms, kitchens, hospitals, offices, prisons, hotels, businesses. . . in other words, everywhere in America.

Reflected through our lenses is the irrepressible dynamism and spirit that AAPIs bring to the heart of this land — as ordinary yet extraordinary Americans.

Of thee I sing.

Exhibit

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Curators Our curators selected from a pool of 2,000 photos

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Eddie Wong

Eddie Wong is a longtime Asian American media activist. He was a founder of Visual Communications, the nation’s first Asian American media production company, and served as the executive director of the National Asian American Telecommunications Association/Center for Asian American Media between 1996 and 2006. He has directed and produced several documentary films and worked as a photographer and editor.

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Adriel Luis

Adriel Luis is a self-taught musician, poet, curator, coder, and visual artist who believes imagination is key to transforming cultural paradigms. Originally from the California Bay Area and recently living in New York City and Beijing, Adriel is currently based in Washington DC as the Curator of Digital and Emerging Media at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Adriel frequently travels to different parts of Asia with particular interest in how digital space shapes global communities, and how varying levels of freedom of expression channel artistic political imagination.

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Amber McClure

Amber McClure is the Digital Engagement Manager at Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC), a national nonprofit media arts organization based in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. Prior to joining PIC in 2010, Ms. McClure worked for over five years as a multimedia project manager with various Hawaiʻi youth and community groups. Born and raised on Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi, she received her BA in Cultural Anthropology/Japanese from Western Washington University and MA in Visual Anthropology from Goldsmiths, University of London.

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Melissa Bisagni

Melissa Bisagni is the Film and Video Programmer in the Media Initiatives Department at the National Museum of the American Indian. She is also an actress and production designer, known for Loves Her Gun (2013), Alone at Last (2006) and Medicine for Melancholy (2008).

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Masum Momaya

Currently a Curator at the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Masum Momaya has 20 years of experience working for women’s rights, gender, race and class equality and social justice. Her curatorial portfolio includes two online multimedia, multilingual exhibitions; a community-based exhibition at a local museum; a solo artist exhibition; and a commissioned multiple artist, themed exhibition. “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation,” Dr. Momaya’s current Smithsonian exhibition, opened February 27, 2014 and will show through August 16, 2015 at the National Museum of Natural History.

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Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis

Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis is Initiative Coordinator of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and currently oversees the Smithsonian Asian-Latino Project. Founding director of the Washington, DC-based literary arts nonprofit The Asian American Literary Review, he serves as co-editor-in-chief of its critically acclaimed literary journal. Since 2006 he has taught Asian American literature, Asian American film, and mixed race studies for the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Maryland.

Thank You Big thanks to those who supported this project and made it possible

Many people and organizations gave generously of themselves to bring “A Day in the Life of Asian Pacific America” to life.

We wish to thank Eddie Wong for proposing this project to us and for countless hours spent contacting photographers, community organizations, APA arts organizations and museums, and media organizations. He pushed the project along from beginning to end as the guest curator.

We wish to thank Lizzie Chen, Wing Young Huie, Junru Huang, Corky Lee, Pete Pin, Rick Rocamora and Julie Thi Underhill for generously donating the use of their photographs in our promotional efforts. We especially thank Corky Lee for urging us to select May 10 as the project date and for suggesting photographers to us.

To our friends in Honolulu, the Pacific Islanders in Communication, mahalo. You helped us spread the word far and wide.

Several museums and individuals helped us by sponsoring documentary photography workshops, which led many people to join us on May 10, 2014. We wish to thank Asian Cine Vision, the Asian American Resource Workshop, Chinese Historical Society of America, the Chinese Historical Society of New England, the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, the Japanese American National Museum, the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, and the Wing Luke Museum. We appreciate the many hours of work by Bruce Akikuzki, Alan Alabastro, Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik, Mitsuko Brooks, Cassie Chinn, Susan Chinsen, Lenore Chin, Chuong Chong, Carina del Rosario, John Esaki, Sara Francini, Curt Fukuda, Bob Hsiang, Duane Kubo, Corky Lee, Todd Lee, Rod Mar, James Nagareda, Lesley Qin, Robert Nakamura, James Sobredo, Leon Sun, Julie Thi Underhill, Eddie Wong, Laura Ming Wong, Leland Wong, Tamiko Wong, Rick Wong, John Woo, An Rong Xu, and Stephen A. Yang.

To our friends at Flickr, thank you for the brilliant display of the over 2,000 images and videos submitted by more than 500 makers.

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