After years of waiting, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are one step closer to having a national museum dedicated to the history of AAPI’s involvement and contribution to the economic, social, and political development of the United States.
The Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture Act (H.R.3525) passed the House of Representatives in April and the Senate in May by unanimous consent and received support across the aisle. President Biden signed the bill into law on June 13th alongside Vice President Kamala Harris, Representative Grace Meng, and several other AAPI lawmakers. The bill, sponsored by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY-6) and cosponsored by 120 Representatives and Delegates, will establish a commission to examine the feasibility of creating, operating, and funding a new National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture. The eight-person committee will be appointed by the House and Senate Democratic and Republican leadership based on their expertise in museum planning, research, and promotion of AAPI history. Over the last few years, Representative Meng attempted several times to pass a bill to study the creation of a national AAPI museum. This is the first time the House has passed such legislation. If created, it would be the first national museum dedicated to the history and culture of the AAPI community.
According to the 2022 STAATUS Index, over 70% of Americans believe Asian Americans have benefited the United States. However, one in three Americans question the loyalty of Asian Americans, and one in five Americans say Asian Americans are at least partly responsible for COVID-19. The report also found 42% of Americans cannot name any historical events or policies relating to Asian Americans. According to the 2020 Census, 19.9 million Americans identified as Asian alone, and the population grew by 35.5% between 2010 and 2020, making Asian Americans the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the United States. The 2022 STAATUS Index also found education is the preferred solution to anti-Asian American racism and lack of awareness of Asian American history and policy.
Representative Meng is hopeful creating the national AAPI museum will help address this education gap. “We have helped make the United States the greatest country in the world, but unfortunately, many remain unaware of the crucial role we’ve played throughout our history,” Representative Meng said in a press release. “It’s time for that to change and creating a national museum would ensure there is a physical space to commemorate and share our story with future generations.”
The commission established by the bill will have 18 months to complete the study on the feasibility of the national AAPI museum and whether the museum should be incorporated into the Smithsonian Institution. The bill follows a similar path used to create the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which became the newest addition to the Smithsonian museums in 2016. Amid the rise in anti-Asian racism from the COVID-19 pandemic, communities in the United States have sought to bring more awareness to the overlooked history and culture of the AAPI community. Such initiatives include mandating AAPI studies in K-12 curriculums in Illinois, New Jersey, and Connecticut. “[T]eaching the future generation about our past…would help breakdown the stereotypes and negative perceptions that sadly still exist about Asian Pacific Americans,” Representative Meng said.
Kenji Nagayoshi is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. Originally from Japan, he is a second-year MA candidate at American University's School of International Service, studying international affairs with a focus on international security. His interests include Japanese and East Asian security as well as Japan-U.S. relations.