The Los Angeles Chinese American Museum will open Roots: Asian American Movements in Los Angeles on Jan. 19 to document Asian American political activism during the Civil Rights movement. The exhibition, which spans from 1968 to the 1980s, will feature over 250 photographs, posters, oral histories, periodicals and other artifacts to showcase the Asian American plight for equality following the Vietnam War.
Roots, according to the museum website, aims to probe the question of what Asian American identity represents and its various influences on modern American culture. The exhibition’s goal is to portray the conflict of revolution sprung out of young activists in times of turmoil. It hopes to accomplish this objective by displaying an arrangement of artifacts from different people and groups within the Asian American community of the 1960s through the 1980s to best represent the circumstances they had experienced.
The team of curators behind Roots includes curator Ryan Wong and assistants Phyllis Chiu, Kathy Masaoka, Karen Ishizuka, Andre Ting and Florante Ibanez. Ryan Wong explained that his motivation to create Roots stemmed from a yearning to understand more about himself.
“I started researching the Asian American movement as a way to understand my own political identity,” Ryan Wong said. “Because we are taught so little about Asian American histories in school, we have to seek them ourselves.”
Chinese American Museum’s interim director Sharon Chen pointed out that not only are Asian Americans underrepresented in school-taught U.S. history but that they also lack visibility.
“Exploring the roots of APA activism through our exhibit is significant because APAs are perhaps one of the most dynamic, yet least visible, communities of color,” Chen said. “Through Roots, CAM aims to highlight the ways that APAs sought to define themselves while empowering their own communities. Through artifacts, photographs and oral histories, we hope to bring new light to the stories of the APA social movement in L.A. that are still so important to us today.”
Ryan Wong added that the exhibition is not meant to be a reminiscence, but exists to serve as a reminder for Asian Americans today of the importance of political organization and protest. The location of the exhibition — downtown Los Angeles — is also significant in its history of being a center of pan-ethnic solidarity during the Civil Rights movement.
“Inspired by international Third World liberation movements, Asian American Movements were national in scope but locally driven,” Chinese American Museum staff curator Steve Wong, who assisted in researching the collection, said. “This exhibit examines how Los Angeles helped define what it means to be Asian Pacific American today.”
Roots will hold a members-only preview on Jan.19 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., followed by a public reception from 6 to 9 p.m.