On Thursday of last week, nearly 400 Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) from all walks of life gathered at the Department of the Interior for the White House Forum on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage, where we discussed ways the Department, especially the National Park Service, can better tell the story of the AAPI experience in America and the contributions this vibrant community has made to our country and its culture.
As a first generation Korean-American, the forum was especially meaningful for me. My parents left Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War. They came to this country with $200 in their pockets and three sets of clothes each. Even with no relatives or friends to greet them and little knowledge of English my parents nevertheless harbored big dreams. They believed that with hard work, a commitment to education, and playing by the rules, they and their children would prosper. And because of their perseverance and courage, we did. I know they are proud that their daughter is now serving as an official in the Obama Administration.
This isn’t just the story of my parents, or the story of Asian Americans, however: it is the story of America. This is why it so important that the National Park Service, which is our nation’s story teller, explores ways to commemorate and interpret the journey of the millions of AAPI pioneers who came to these shores and the role they had in building America.
During the forum, our new secretary, Sally Jewell, pledged her support for the AAPI Theme Study. “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have long been leaders in every aspect of our social fabric – in government, business, science, medicine, the arts, education and our armed forces,” Secretary Jewell said. “From Angel Island where more than one million Asian immigrants arrived on these shores, to the Chinese immigrants who helped build the railroads across the country, to the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, these stories are all important threads in the great American tapestry.”
AAPI leaders from across the country discussed our community’s progress, and how our stories really constitute the fabric of the larger American story. We also discussed National Park Service’s efforts, over the coming months, to guide the theme study scholars in developing narratives that will connect tangible places to so many intangible stories. The Service’s National Historic Landmark program will use the theme study to guide future nominations of National Historic Landmarks and National Register properties.
It was a proud day for me to see so many distinguished AAPI leaders coming together to honor those who went before us and to ensure their story is told for future generations.
Rhea S. Suh is the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget at the U.S. Department of the Interior.