Asian-American history celebrated at National Archives

By Joel Hall


U.S. Reps. Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-La.), and Mike Honda (D-Calif.), along with Chinese-American author, John Jung, will be among several notable Asian Americans to share their stories at the National Archives at Atlanta Saturday, in honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.

The three will speak during a symposium entitled, "We are America: Asian Pacific Americans in the U.S. South."

The symposium is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., at the National Archives at Atlanta, located at 5780 Jonesboro Road in Morrow. National Archives Programs Specialist Mary Evelyn Tomlin said the event will be the first of its kind for the archives, featuring documentation and presentations covering the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese American interment, and Asian life in the American South.

"It celebrates the accomplishments of the people who have migrated here from the Asian-Pacific area," Tomlin said. "It's something new for us to do in the Atlanta National Archives. We're very excited about the response we have gotten."

Tomlin said all of the speakers are Asian Americans who have accomplished much, despite adversity brought on by their heritage:

* Cao escaped Vietnam at the age of eight, along with thousands of Vietnamese who immigrated to America during the Vietnam War era. His father, a solider with the South Vietnamese Army, was captured and spent several years imprisoned in a Communist re-education camp.

Eventually, Cao became an advocate for immigrants, and in December of 2008, became the nation's first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress. He currently serves on the House committees of Homeland Security, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Oversight and Government Reform.

* Honda's early years were spent in a Japanese-American internment camp, where many of the nation's Japanese Americans spent the duration of World War II. The son of strawberry share croppers, Honda has represented California's Silicon Valley as its congressman since 2001, and currently chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

* Jung, a native of Macon, Ga., a retired psychology professor, and the son of Chinese immigrants, has written several books on the Chinese-American experience. Those books include: "Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton: Lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese Grocers," and "Southern Fried Rice: Life in A Chinese Laundry in the Deep South," a story recalling his own experiences in pre-integration Macon, Ga. as a member of the only Chinese family in the city during the 1930s and 1940s.

Honda said he believes the event will help many Asian Americans put the past and the future into perspective. "Many Asian Americans are still coming to grips with their painful past, their present identity, and their future potential," he said Monday, via e-mail.

"We now have three Asian Americans serving President Obama in the Cabinet: Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Commerce Secretary Gary locke, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki ...," he said. "This historical retrospective is critical in realizing who we are now, what we have to offer, and how much society needs our leadership. Until Asian Americans are equally integrated into every aspect of American society, events like these are critical in countering trends that traditionally hurt the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community."

Jung, 73, who currently resides in Long Beach, Calif., said he has used information at the National Archives to aid his writing. He said he hopes the event will inspire people to research their own history.

"Being that this [event] is close to the region I grew up in, this makes it even more special to me," Jung said. "It's really important for them to be aware of the past history of Asian and Chinese in America. Things have improved considerably over the last generation, but you can't just bury the past completely. They need to know the struggles that their parents went through."

According to Tomlin, Kevin Kim, director of Atlanta Radio Korea, will serve as master of ceremonies for the event. She said the free event will include lunch, a presentation on how people can use the National Archives to research genealogical information, and a special presentation on archival holdings relating to the Asian-Pacific American experience given by Bill Greene, archivist at the National Archives, Pacific Region in San Francisco, Calif.

Those planning to attend the event, must register at https://sites.google.com/site/apahmatlanta. For more information, call (770) 968-2555.