Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DC Highlights

Because "C" asked me if I was going to blog and post pics from my trip to DC, here they are (I'll add commentary if necessary, but this is going to be a rather fluffy post for anyone who is hoping for something a bit more pointed--although who knows...maybe there will be something towards the end...)

View from hotel balcony looking out over Key Bridge/Georgetown:

[Aside: Southern Man and I arrived an hour and a half before the official check-in time, and usually I've been able to check-in early. However, the clerk told me quite firmly (when I showed her my reservation sheet) that check-in was 3:00pm and that we'd have to come back. The woman, who looked to be Southeast Asian American, regarded me quite coldly--no fellow Asian American head nod. However, 10 minutes later, when Southern Man and I were trying to figure out where to have lunch near the hotel so we could come back in an hour and a half, and after Southern Man had asked for recommendations from the same hotel clerk (getting both a map and a set of directions for how to get to the Metro station as well as a map of restaurants in the area), the clerk relented and told Southern Man that she was SURE she could find a room for HIM-- and after I handed her MY credit card, after running it through her machine she handed it to SOUTHERN MAN, not to me, and told him that she got HIM a "really nice room." And all I could think was "You have GOT to be kidding me! Am I invisible or what???!!! I suppose one reading of this is that it's the example of the ultimate privilege of being a white man, but the thing is, this happens to us ALL THE TIME--Southern Man has a way of charming everyone and the next thing you know people are handing him mix CDs, complimentary sodas, and getting us checked in an hour early to our hotel (sigh)]

Nam June Paik's digital art-piece "Electronic Superhighway" in the National Portrait Gallery:




Sculpture of Einstein near the mall:


The Lincoln Memorial:




A segment about the Japanese American Internment in the exhibit on "America at War" at the National Museum of American History:


A display on Asian immigration to the United States at the National Museum of American History :

By the way, the above two photos were pretty much the extent of the Asian American content in the entire National Museum of American History. Which strikes me as being, well, sad. Actually, taking into account Nam June Paik's work, this entire post reflects the Asian American content that we encountered going to the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American History. It does make you wonder about how much either of these spaces reflect the actual sense of the U.S. being a "mixed race" space and/or representative of the actual demographics of America. And I don't think it's because only white male Americans have had a profound impact on American culture (although it is indisputable that this is a true fact). I would argue that it has to do with the kind of emphasis that we choose to place on certain events. Actually, there used to be a great exhibit that the National Museum of American History had called "A More Perfect Union" which was entirely about the Japanese American internment. But after their renovations they, of course, had to make certain choices about what to keep and what to cut. Unfortunately, this exhibit got cut, or rather truncated to a brief display within another exhibit.

Again, I mention all of this to help us to consider just what we consider to be important on a national scale in terms of our museums and remembrances. And what impact that has on the people who view these exhibits, perhaps hoping to see themselves reflected in their nation's capital and their nation's museums.

5 comments:

Jenny said...

Hi-- I work at the National Museum of American History! And I'm mixed race, Asian and white American. So I just can't resist replying to your entry. Unfortunately, there isn't a ton of specifically Asian-American history on display at the Museum, but there definitely are collections that reflect the Asian-American experience. I never actually saw "A More Perfect Union" while it was an onsite exhibition, but you can visit it any time online, at least: http://americanhistory.si.edu/perfectunion/experience/index.html Thanks for visiting and for writing!

Jennifer said...

Jenny,
Thanks so much for the link to the "More Perfect Union" exhibit--it really was a great one--the Japanese American museum in LA also has a really great exhibit on internment, as does the Asian American museum in Seattle, WA. So there are spaces out there that are also covering this topic. But the one at the Smithsonian was exceptionally thought provoking and, in my opinion, historically important. I'm glad that digital technology enables us to "visit" virtually.

And thanks for leaving a comment--I hope you will leave others in the future--and I hope that perhaps your influence wiht the National Museum of American History will result in future AsAm exhibitions!

Iimay said...

Hi Jennifer!
I'm sorry to hear that I missed you while you were in DC! I'm glad you had a good time. Thanks for this post. I was really disappointed when I went to the newly renovated National Museum of American History because the only mention I saw of Asian Americans was the brief panel on immigration. I actually didn't see ANYTHING on Japanese internment - actually just saw a few pictures about Americans interned in Asian countries during WWII. Where is the exhibit exactly? I was fuming when I left because I thought that there was this huge gap where internment was supposed to be, so I'm encouraged that it's there, even if it is sort of a token, passing reference.

Wanderdarkling said...

Hi Jennifer!

What a great mention of the National Museum of American History! I thought that perhaps you might be interested in helping us spread the word about a really cool event that NMAH is launching-- a national Star-Spangled Banner YouTube Singing Contest!

Contestants can submit a video performance of the national anthem to the Star-Spangled Banner group on YouTube. The deadline for submissions is April 13, 2009.

It would be great if you could alert your readers to this exciting contest. Here's a link to the Call for Entries if you'd like to help spread the word:

http://americanhistory.si.edu/news/pressrelease.cfm?key=29&newskey=968

Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Alex

Jennifer said...

Iimay,
Sorry we didn't get in touch while we were in DC. We were there for just 2 days and had a fairly packed schedule. But yes, go check out the "America at war" exhibit because you can see the Japanese American internment reduced to two panels (sigh).

Anyway, hope you are doing well!