Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans Revisited: An Introduction to the National Historic Landmarks Theme Study

Japanese Removal Order by Dorothea Lange LoC
Civilian exclusion order #5, posted at First and Front streets, directing removal by April 7, 1942 of persons of Japanese ancestry, from the first San Francisco section to be affected by evacuation.

Photo by Dorothea Lange. Photo in the collections of the Library of Congress (

By Franklin Odo, Department of American Studies, Amherst College

In Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism, Noenoe Silva asserts for Native Hawaiian history what this Theme Study attemps for the experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans: "[f]or those of us living with the legacies and the continuing exercise of power characteristics of colonialism, it is crucial to understand power relations in order to escape or overcome their effects, and, further, to understand the resistance strategies and tactics of the past in order to use them and improve on them."[1] There are many venues through which we might pursue this journey: theory, poetry, fiction, film, psychology, politics, technology, science fiction, among others. But history, memory, and place are crucial, in my view, to the apprehension of colonial power relations and the "resistance strategies and tactics of the past" through which we seek redress. Or, perhaps better to insist on "memory through place" as potentially subversive of the normalized hierarchies of race, class, gender, and other classifications inscribed in our museums, monuments, historic houses and the myriad other sites through which public history is manipulated.[2] We can make serious connections among critical issues of the day and relate them to the past when we locate and interpret sites where important events, people, and ideas occurred.[3]

But place is rarely provided the significance it deserves in the contemplation or commemoration of historic events/people/ideas in the narratives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders within the histories of the United States.[4] This volume, then, foregrounds "place" as a crucial variable in locating AAPIs in the history of the American empire. Read more >> [.pdf 3.3MB]

[1] Noenoe Silva, Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2004), p. 9.

[2] For a set of brief, provocative, pieces exploring this field, see Max Page and Marla Miller, eds., Bending the Future: 50 Ideas for the Next 50 Years of Historic Preservation in the United States (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2016). The 50 essays contain a wealth of information and references to the vast literature dealing with this set of burgeoning fields.

[3] Studying the evolving relationships between historic sites, monuments, and memorials along with collective memories has long been a serious focus. Potential intersections between this field and the similarly growing area of Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies is long overdue. The essays in this Theme Study will suggest both places and narratives that can produce fruitful results. In the interim, some of the important works on memory and place include the following: David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008); Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life (NY: Columbia University Press, 1998); Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995); Kenneth E. Foote, Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy (Austin: University of Texas, 1997).

[4] For a survey of critical topics in the rapidly growing field of Asian American history, see, for example, David Yoo and Eiichiro Azuma, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Asian American History (NY: Oxford University Press, 2016).

The views and conclusions contained in the essays are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Part of a series of articles titled Finding a Path Forward: Asian American Pacific Islander National Historic Landmarks Theme Study.

Last updated: June 26, 2020