101 AAPI objects and the iconic histories they represent


Edited by Theodore S. Gonzalves (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2023, 264 pp., $40, hardcover)

Edited by Theodore S. Gonzalves, “Smithsonian Asian Pacific American History, Art and Culture in 101 Objects” examines Asian American history through a carefully curated selection of the Smithsonian’s vast collection, which currently holds an estimated 157 million objects. Smithsonian curators and experts have created a tribute to Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals and communities, commemorating their invaluable contributions to their communities and society at large.

There’s a wide range of objects, which includes art, political posters and objects, technology, poetry, clothing and even a meteor discovered at an American incarceration camp during World War II. The objects range from the deeply personal to historically iconic, with many blending aspects of both, bringing even greater meaning and significance to the featured objects and the history they represent. Throughout the book, profiles of important Asian Americans give life to American history, greater detail in their own stories, and significance to objects, giving readers a fuller capture of Asian Americans’ impact in history.

The book features objects from the past through present, captured in full color photos and organized into chapters by themes such as Innovation, Resistance and Solidarity, Community and Joy. Some objects will keep you looking more closely, such as the press passes of K.W. Lee, the first Asian immigrant reporter for a mainstream U.S. mainland newspaper, or the thousands of red, yellow and black feathers used to create the Kekuaokalani’s feather cape.

The range of art featured is also vast, from the artworks of Yayoi Kusama and Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani, which hold significance in the art world and art history, to the messaging and art through campaign pins for various political races, which show tiny snapshots of how Asian Americans aligned and organized to express their support.Objects that speak to more recent moments in history also range in their significance, from Ali Wong’s black and white dress worn for her wildly popular “Baby Cobra” stand up special, to Naomi Osaka’s racket and the seven masks she wore at the 2020 U.S. Open, each emblazoned with the names George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Elijah McClain, Tamir Rice and Breonna Taylor, Black people who died of police violence or at the hands of vigilantes.

This would make a great coffee table or waiting room book, but would also be a good pick for museum buffs or anyone interested in Asian American history. Whether it is nostalgia from a classic Hello Kitty bento box, sorrow from tapestries created from a World War II POW camp, or awe from the nametag of Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American NASA selected to fly in space, the emotion that these objects evoke are complex. No matter what your level of knowledge is in Asian Pacific American history, readers can learn stories and history in a visually compelling way.

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