Origins and Influence Commemorates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage

AHM-button_composite2by Sarah Block, Library Communications

From Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake to the nationwide sriracha sauce craze, an exhibition now running at the University of Miami’s Otto G. Richter Library explores America’s Asian influences and the cultural traditions that precede them.

Featuring books, photographs, films, and original publications, the exhibition, titled Origins and Influence, commemorates May’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

“The line between what is Eastern and what is Western is far more fluid than many people realize,” said Education and Outreach Librarian Lauren Fralinger, the exhibition’s lead curator.

A quick scan of the exhibition draws familiar sights from popular culture, such as the character Sailor Moon, a dragon dance at UM, and 2006 film The Departed, a remake of China’s earlier Infernal Affairs. Fralinger says these images represent the many ways Asian culture is deeply embedded in the American way of life.

At the entrance of Richter Library, original Pan Am travel brochures, photographs, menus, and other ephemera are on display highlighting popular landmarks and tourist destinations in Asia and the Pacific Islands. Archives Assistant Cory Czajkowski, who helped prepare materials from Pan American World Airways Inc., Records, Special Collections’ largest and most researched archive, said the items in the case represent the aviation company’s developing global presence during the twentieth century. “The company had a large role via the tourism industry in connecting the East and West,” Czajkowski said.

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From Silken Threads (2005).

Fralinger and her curatorial team, which also includes Circulation Supervisor Shannon Moreno and University Archivist Koichi Tasa, worked with two UM student organizations, the Asian American Students Association and the UM Anime Club, to document different ways UM students are honoring Asian American cultures on campus. Anime Club members’ adaptations of Japanese anime characters and scenery are captured in large-scale photography along the first floor exhibition wall, reflecting the students’ engagement in a performance art known as cosplay.

Another case focusing on traditional Asian attire provides a glimpse into Asian fashion in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, including titles such as Silken Threads (2005) by Yong Yang Chung, which describes the history of embroidery in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

AHM-goldOverall, the exhibition emphasizes the fusion of these various cultural symbols. Featured literature such as John Jung’s Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton (2008), Escape to Gold Mountain (2012) by David H. T. Wong, and other titles describe the varied experiences of Asian Americans assimilating into American culture since the early days of the California Gold Rush. “Asians coming to the United States set up enclaves that catered to their home communities, but they also immersed themselves in American culture,” said Shannon Moreno.

The Libraries holds thirty works and literary criticisms of prominent Japanese author Haruki Murakami, several of which are featured in Origins and Influence. “Murakami’s novels have become very popular teaching material in the United States,” said Koichi Tasa. Murakami has also played an active role in translating his works to English—a testament, Tasa says, to the author’s confidence in the universal power of language and storytelling.

Fralinger said she hopes that viewers of Origins and Influence will gain new perspective on cultural enrichment coming from the East—“in ways,” she added, “that are both traditional and contemporary.”

Origins and Influence is on display from now through May. The exhibition is made possible in part by the Lynda and Michael Gordon Exhibition Program.