Los Altos History Museum’s Take on Asian American Stories

By Noelle Hanson, Staff Writer

Behind a glass case, a collection of old family photos and letters to loved ones are scattered with underlying captions explaining their significance. The handwriting on these artifacts are from Asian American Immigrants who settled in the United States many decades ago. It’s clear to the observer that their journeys were fraught with  difficulty and struggle, and for some, also with reward and redemption in the form of family success generations down the road.

The Los Altos History Museum is currently hosting an exhibition produced by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center January 7, 2018. Although this exhibit focuses mainly on the early immigration story of Chinese and Japanese immigrants, it also covers immigrant histories from countries such as India and the Philippines. The museum is working to raise more awareness about these immigrants, their experiences and their culture.

The exhibit is a combination of artifacts from the Los Altos community and panels from the Smithsonian. Glass cases filled with artifacts are organized throughout the room from immigrants who traveled from Asia and found their home in the Bay Area. Lining the walls are panels covered with local community member’s stories, important Asian American figures and the reaction of the United States to immigration from the 1800s to now.

“The whole idea [of this exhibit] would be to understand that the immigration story is about the world,” said Jane Ree, the Exhibition Manager and former Mayor of Los Altos. “This just happens to be one piece of it. But you can draw from that to understand some of the difficulties that every immigrant that comes here usually has with dealing [with] the process of becoming a part of the country.”

“After looking at a list of exhibits from the Smithsonian, the museum picks one that would be a good fit for the community and the size of the museum itself”, Ree said. The Smithsonian only delivers panels, long sheets of paper filled with pictures and information regarding the immigration experience, and it is up to the community to personalize the exhibit. The artifacts were donated by community members and local businesses.

Ree also emphasized the attitude of the immigrants coming to our country and the desire to constantly give back to their communities. She pointed out a will, donated by a community member, written by a Chinese immigrant who asked only for his family to given thanks for their life they had created in America by giving back to their communities.  

“Sometimes when we are here we don’t realize how much we need to help each other in giving, and how appreciative we are of different people that are helping to teach us how to give back,” Ree said.

“I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Experience” will be open on Thursdays through Sundays from 12 to 4 p.m. until January 7, 2018.