2012 APIAHP Forum: Safeguarding and Sharing Our Stories


Their stories are compelling, heartbreaking, and inspiring, and Asian Pacific Islanders have joined forces to tell their collective history and preserve the historic places that tell the story of their experiences in America. 

In 2010 more than 100 individuals attended the first biennial Asian Pacific Islander American Historic Preservation Forum in San Francisco, Calif. It attracted a variety of groups with a range of experiences, from new grassroots community efforts to projects over 30 years in the making. The theme of the first Forum was “Preserving Asian Pacific Islander America: Mobilizing Our Community.” And mobilize it did.  Attendees gained a sense of purpose and energy, and--most importantly--they left with a shared idea of the role of preservation in the Asian Pacific Islander community.

Participants agreed to embrace preservation efforts that include the tangible and the intangible, along with various cultural art forms, traditions, language, associations, businesses, stories, food, festivals and all other activities that help to define these place-based ethnic communities. They further resolved to identify and protect places whose historic meaning for the APIA communities has been veiled by time, but can be revealed by new efforts to document and educate.

A second forum was held this past spring in Los Angeles. Bill Watanabe, APIA HP Forum Steering Committee Chair, noted that the conference attracted a “wider range of attendees…many of whom presented a diversity of historic preservation projects during the workshop periods.  We were also able to have better representation from other Asian American communities such as Thai American and Sikh American.”

The theme for this year’s forum—Safeguarding and Sharing Our American Stories—was designed to propel the conversation forward and get attendees to share their stories of mobilization and preservation. In addition to information-sharing and networking, the second conference went further by providing snapshots of the current preservation landscape: some of the latest techniques being used, who some of the players are at various levels, the shifting national scope, and how APIA preservationists could interact within those various arenas. 

Working with Asian American Communities

Judy Lee, from The Save Our Chinatown Committee (Riverside, Calif.) notes that there are many lessons that preservationists can take away from APIA preservation, most of which are applicable to the preservation of ethnic minority heritage. For example:

  • Preservationists should understand that there are a variety of APIA groups, each with their own stories, all linked with a common thread, that of immigrant groups arrivals and settlement.
  • Culture, community, and place are closely tied together.  A sense of place is critical, whether it is a place that contains a current community, a place that has experienced a succession of groups living in the same neighborhood,or a place that no longer contains people from those ethnic groups living there or any buildings left from that community.
  • A sense of place can be important for what it literally is, or as a representation for the concept of APIA presence at a given time in a specific place, or what it represents for a sense of belonging. 
  • Not only is digital content an important component for historic preservation, online relationships can be crucial for the APIA community. Sometimes online is the only space that APIAs can claim as their own. This life can be more valid than that of the material world, oftentimes a world more easily controlled by others than by themselves.

Hugh Rowland, executive liaison at the California Historical Society also encourages preservationists to continue “to pursue efforts to increase inclusion among America's officially recognized historic places of sites associated with the contributions and achievements of, and challenges faced by, the nation's Asian Pacific Island American citizens. Although some of the sites may be less than grand, invariably the stories are touching and inspiring. Preservationists need to become better 'listeners' as to where community is found, fostered, and sustained.”

For more information visit www.apinhpforum.org.