The Smithsonian’s initiative on documenting Asians in America started humbly enough two decades ago, with a borrowed exhibit in a borrowed museum wing and a tiny staff.
There was a National Museum of the American Indian attached to the Smithsonian, and progress was being made toward a museum on the National Mall celebrating African Americans’ history. But Asian Americans in the 1990s remained a largely invisible population, with few people represented in entertainment, politics, sports or business.
Those years were tough, said Franklin Odo, director at the time of the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American program.
“Whenever we needed to do a public lecture or exhibit, I had to go beg one of these other institutions to lend a space,” Odo said. “We had to really convince our colleagues that this was a field, this was a demographic ... that needed to be recognized and needed to be held with some respect.”
On Saturday, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center launches a $25 million fundraising drive for permanent gallery space on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with a glitzy party in Los Angeles full of celebrities and politicians. Several actors from the hit film “Crazy Rich Asians” are expected to attend, along with Rep. Judy Chu and Rep. Doris Matsui, both Democrats representing California.