A national museum of Asian Pacific American history and culture is one major step closer to reality after the US House of Representatives unanimously approved on 26 April a bill to create an eight-person commission to study the feasibility of establishing such an institution in Washington, DC. The bill now heads to the Senate.
The bill, officially titled the “Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture Act”, was introduced in July 2019 by congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents the sixth congressional district of New York, a diverse area in Queens that includes the borough’s Chinatown district. Its passage by the House of Representatives comes amid a rising number of violent attacks against Asian Americans and in the lead-up to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which is celebrated in May.
“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been pivotal in contributing to the growth and prosperity of our nation since its founding,” Meng, who is also the first vice chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a statement. “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. 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.”
If approved, the bill would create a commission whose responsibilities would include the development of a fundraising plan to establish and support the museum, reporting on the availability and costs of relevant acquisitions for the museum’s collection, identifying potential locations for the museum in Washington, DC and gauging its impact on related institutions in the surrounding region. The commission would also be expected to recommend whether or not the museum should be part of the Smithsonian Institution, which already operates 19 museums in the US capital and New York City, as well as the National Zoo. The commission would have 18 months to complete the full study.
If it moves ahead, the national Asian Pacific American museum would be one of three national institutions in various stages of planning in Washington, DC. In February the Smithsonian appointed Jorge Zamanillo as the founding director of the National Museum of the American Latino. And in March the Smithsonian revealed a long list of potential sites for that museum and the American Women’s History Museum, which has similarly been in planning for decades.
“Our communities have long faced exclusion—from history curricula in the classroom to the recognition that our communities are integral to the fabric of American society,” John C. Yang, the president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said in a statement. “Creating a national resource and institution dedicated to public education of Asian American and Pacific Islander histories is critical to building a more inclusive future.”