What does immigration mean to you? How has immigration affected your family? What are the best ways to help current immigrants? The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience probes into these questions in its new exhibit, Belonging: Before And After The Immigration Act Of 1965, on display from March 2015 to February 2016.
The Wing Luke Museum, located in Seattle, was founded in 1967. Today its mission is “to connect everyone to the rich history, dynamic cultures, and art of Asian Pacific American through vivid storytelling and inspiring exhibitions.”  Its new exhibit coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Immigration Act of 1965. This law abolished the national origin quota system, replacing it with a selection process that gave preference to skilled laborers and those with family already in the country. The old quota system effectively barred most Asians from immigrating; within five years of the law’s passage, the number of Asian immigrants quadrupled. In the next three decades, more than 18 million new immigrants entered the U.S, causing massive changes in the ethnic and cultural makeup of the country. 
Belonging: Before And After The Immigration Act Of 1965 had several goals. Museum staff explained ,“We want to celebrate the diversity of people, goods, and ideas that immigration and the ’65 Act have brought to the United States. And yet, we want to challenge certain assumptions about immigration, such as the “exceptional” Asian immigrant in contrast to “undeserving” immigrants….There is no single immigrant stereotype. A complete understanding of immigration must account for how this issue intersects with race, class, gender, and other identities.” 
To meet these aims, the exhibit has both physical and digital components. The physical exhibit explains the Immigration Act and its historical context, and highlights the immigration stories of selected people. The digital exhibit is a community-sourced collection of art and writing on the subject of immigration, and focuses more on individual and family experiences, rather than the larger historical framework. The museum issued a call for submissions to the greater Seattle community, and a review committee selected the pieces based on their unique perspectives. People of all heritages were invited to participate, and the final exhibit includes submissions from artists of a wide variety of backgrounds, including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Afghani, Filipino, Kurdish, Mexican, El Salvadoran, and Native American.
Public programming associated with the exhibit includes tours of Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, book readings, film showings, and panel discussions.. There is also an online resource guide, with information for both educators and people dealing with immigration issues (including links to groups that help women, LGBTQ, and youth immigrants).
Belonging: Before and After makes strong connections to contemporary immigration issues. Several submissions in the digital exhibit are explicitly about current immigration policies, such as Luis Alberto Rodriguez-Arenivar’s drawing “NO MAS DEPORTACIONES”, protesting U.S. policy of deporting undocumented immigrants. The “Immigration in Context” panel, scheduled for May 7, 2015, will feature immigration activists and scholars discussing immigration issues. By linking the history of immigration to current issues, this exhibit inspires visitors to learn more and work for social change.
The exhibit also directly challenges stereotypes of Asian immigrants by telling diverse stories. When browsing through the artwork, writing, and videos on the exhibit website, immigrants’ stories come alive and it is easier to feel empathy and compassion for those who have struggled to adapt to their new country. It is easy to view all immigrants as a faceless mass, but this exhibit helps to dismantle stereotypes and treat every immigrant as an individual.
I believe this exhibit is a good example of how museums can connect historical issues to contemporary events, contribute to a greater understanding between people, and engage audiences in discussions around class, race, and gender.
1 “About Us,” Wing Luke Museum, accessed April 20, 2015, http://www.wingluke.org/about/.
2 “U.S. Immigration Since 1965,” The History Channel, accessed April 25, 2015, http://www.history.com/topics/us-immigration-since-1965.
3 “Belonging: Exhibit Opening Reception”, accessed April 25, 2015. http://heyevent.com/event/969493466409181/belonging-exhibit-opening-reception.
4 Minh Nguyen, personal communication, April 27, 2015.