National Gathering looks at preserving APIA historic sites


SHARED HISTORIES — Kathy Omachi of Fresno Chinatown Revitalization Inc. and Eddie Wong of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation were among the panelists discussing “Shared Histories, Shared Sites.”Photos by J.K. Yamamoto

A historic gathering, rooted in preserving Asian Pacific Islander American historical sites, was held in San Francisco’s Japantown on June 24-26. Dozens of people from across the country — many already deeply involved in preservation work — assembled to learn more about how they can work collaboratively in such efforts at the first-ever National Asian Pacific Islander American Historic Preservation Forum.

“The main goal was just to come together for the first time — see who is doing what and where in relation to historic preservation work in the APIA communities across the country and across the Pacific,” said forum Chair Bill Watanabe, the executive director at Little Tokyo Service Center. “Secondarily, we wanted to network, share stories and exchange information, and provide support and inspiration to do the work better.”

Conference organizers planned an array of discussions including “Introduction to Historic Preservation,” “Adaptive Reuse for Ethnic Museums and Cultural Centers,” “Defining API Destinations Through Cultural Heritage and Tourism” and “New Efforts to Document Asian Pacific Heritage.” There were also presentations on youth-engaged preservation efforts by such groups as nihonmachiROOTS and the National Japanese American Historical Society’s Japantown Youth Tours.

Interspersed were walking tours of the Little Saigon, Chinatown and Japantown areas of San Francisco, as well as an optional tour of the Angel Island Immigration Station that once housed tens of thousands of Asian immigrants.

ADAPTIVE REUSE — Nancy Araki of the Japanese American National Museum, which renovated the old Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Photos by J.K. Yamamoto

Participants and organizers alike were pleased with the turnout and discussion.

“I think the 153 actual conference registrations were very gratifying — I was hoping for 100 as a good turnout for this event — and we got good cross-section of ethnicities and locales,” said Watanabe. “I’ve gotten e-mails from folks who expressed their gratitude about having the gathering and that it was helpful for them.”

As for the future, the group hopes to stay engaged to continue work in preservation of historic sites.

“We hope to reconvene in two years in Los Angeles; some folks are already beginning planning for this,” said Watanabe.  “There will also be a ‘bridge gathering’ in Honolulu next year during the Western Association of Museums meeting in Honolulu in Sept. 2011. We are also going to keep working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to support our efforts, and to keep expanding our network and set up a good functioning Website to gather more information.”

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