Even though Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is wrapping up, planning a group visit to AAPI-related sites should extend well beyond the month of May. K-pop, anime, and films like “Everything Everywhere All at Once” have made for a juggernaut few years for Asian and Asian American arts (Shout-out to James Hong for finally receiving his Hollywood star!) but these communities have changed the course of America for decades. Here are five spots to take your group to learn about Asian American history and Asian/Asian American culture.
1. Angel Island in Tiburon, California
Angel Island is the largest island in San Francisco Bay and known as the (former) Ellis Island of the West Coast. Immigrants were detained here, oftentimes for weeks, because of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The site became a registered California Historic Landmark in the 1970s, and visitors are still able to see the hand-carved Chinese poems on the walls written by the people who lived and waited there.
Group tours of the Detention Barracks Museum can be reserved for six people or more through California Ports, but make sure to save time to explore the rest of the island, which is also a state park. There are biking, hiking, and tram options, and then if you hop back to San Francisco, you can visit places like San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Asian Art Museum, or if you drive about an hour south, the 18-acre Hakone Historic District‘s estate and gardens.
2. Chinatown in New York City, New York
New York City actually has several Chinatowns, but we’re talking about the one in Manhattan, which includes countless eateries and shops, the Museum of Chinese in America (group tours available), and the Mahayana Buddhist Temple, the city’s largest (private tours available for 10 or more). It’s impossible to encompass it all here, so to hit some of the most significant spots, consider using tour guides such as the Mott Street Girls, two second generation Chinese Americans who offer a history tour and a food tour.
3. Golden Spike National Historical Park in Corinne, Utah
The Golden Spike National Historical Site became the first national park with significant attribution to Asian American history in 2019, according to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. To many, the changes made to better acknowledge the Chinese labor on the first transcontinental railroad were long due. Records show that Chinese workers were paid less than others, were not provided food, and had worse housing; more than 1,000 died during construction. Year-round, groups can explore the visitor center’s exhibits and go on short, self-guided auto tours to see where workers built the railroad.
4. Manzanar National Historic Site in Independence, California
In 1942, a few months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, and for four years, the government incarcerated more than 110,000 Japanese Americans in 10 camps across the United States. The best preserved one is at the Manzanar National Historic Site. Guided tours are available by reservation, but visitors are also able to dive into the history on their own.
More places that remember this dark history include the Rowher Japanese American Relocation Center museum in Arkansas and Seattle’s Panama Hotel (now owned by Jan Johnson), which has a display of unclaimed items from the Japanese and Japanese Americans who were forced into internment. Also in Seattle, the Wing Luke Museum has an exhibit featuring art, first-person accounts, and historic materials around the Japanese American incarceration through September of this year. Even if you miss it, though, the nation’s only pan-Asian Pacific American museum has permanent exhibits on topics including Desi American culture, Filipino American history, and the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia.
5. Portland Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon
The 12-acre Portland Japanese Garden first opened in 1967 and includes eight separate garden styles, an authentic Japanese tea house, and countless serene and beautiful spots, such as its Heavenly Falls, zig zag bridge, and Sand and Stone Garden outlook. When Nobuo Matsunaga, the former ambassador of Japan, visited in 1988, he called it “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.” Its eponymous nonprofit organization has worked to maintain this praise, opening a cultural village space in 2017 to house some of its many events and community education programs. Group tours are offered multiple times per day, and private group tours can be reserved for 15 or more.
There are a number of other Asian-inspired gardens throughout the country, but two notable gems are the Liu Fang Yuan garden located in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and the Korean Bell Garden in northern Virginia’s Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. Liu Fang Yang, or the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, is inspired by the 16th and 17th gardens of Suzhou and include rock features, architecture, and culturally significant flowers across its 15 acres. The Korean Bell Garden is not the largest garden at about 4 acres, but it includes the Bell of Peace and Harmony—a three-ton bell modeled after one from 702-737 A.D. and created in South Korea, making it the only bell of its kind in the U.S.
This round-up is does not cover so many Asian American-significant spots in the country, nor can it.
The Asian American diaspora covers about 50 ethnic groups, around 100 languages, and more than 25 million people in the United States. For instance, if you visit the Twin Cities in Minnesota, you’ll be amid one of the largest Hmong populations in the country and can stop by places like Little Mekong, Hmongtown Marketplace, and Hmong Village, which all also host periodic community celebrations or street markets. You’ll find the largest Holi festival in the country in Utah. Los Angeles’ Historic Fililpinotown, formerly known as Little Manila, is the most authentic spot in America to go on a Jeepney tour. And we haven’t even gotten to Hawaii, the Pacific islands, or Alaska yet.
Written by Lianna Matt McLernon
Featured Image: Chinatown; Credit: Julienne Schaer/NYC & Company