Asian American Experiences in California: Past, Present, Future

This symposium brings together scholars, public intellectuals, and community leaders to reflect on Asian American histories and experiences in California.

The Huntington lies at the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, and it holds ever-deepening collections relating to Asian diaspora in California and beyond. Attendees will explore how The Huntington’s collections can continue to activate and preserve this history to serve the community.

This one-day event will:

  • Explore the histories of Asian diaspora in the United States
  • Interrogate the roots of anti-Asian racism in light of recent violence and hate speech targeting people of Asian descent
  • Examine post-1965 Asian American experiences during immigration reform and activist movements
  • Imagine futures for Asian America and the paths to a more equitable future


10–10:15 a.m. | Introduction and Welcome Remarks
Simon K.C. Li, Huntington Trustee

10:15 a.m.–noon | Panel 1: Historical Roots (pre-1965)
This panel will focus on the roots of Asian experience, and anti-Asian racism, in California, with presenters drawing extensively on The Huntington’s Pacific Rim collections. Topics might include race relations in 19th-century and early 20th-century California; the Chinese Exclusion Act and other restrictive immigration and citizenship laws; the Huntington family’s connection to railroad construction and Chinese laborers; Japanese American contributions to Southern California’s agricultural and floricultural industries; Los Angeles’ Chinatowns; and Japanese American experiences of internment during World War II.

Gordon H. Chang, Stanford University, “Beyond Promontory: Chinese Railroad Workers and the Rise of California”

Naomi Hirahara, writer, “Torii Gate Welcoming Empire: Japanese Immigrant and Nisei Cultural Workers and Pasadena Landscape and Life”

Jean Chen Ho, writer, University of Southern California, “Sight/Cite/Site: Racial Violence, Chinese Angelenos, and the Lost Stories of LA’s Original Chinatown”

Marci Kwon, Stanford University, “The Asian American Art Initiative at Stanford University”

Li Wei Yang, The Huntington

Noon–1:30 p.m. | Lunch

1:30–3 p.m. | Panel 2: Shaping the Present (1965–present)
The second panel will explore the ways in which immigration reforms in 1965 have shaped the recent experiences of Asians and Asian Americans in California, particularly in the communities immediately surrounding The Huntington. Topics might include the transformation of Asian and Asian-American communities after 1965; the creation of majority-Asian suburbs; Asian-American rights movements; Asian and Asian American identities (e.g., Asian American, Asian-in-America, and AAPI); the intersections of race, class, and gender/sexuality; and epidemics and the rise of anti-Asian violence and hate speech. Speakers will include both historians and community leaders, who can together illuminate these experiences through multiple perspectives, both lived and studied.


Wendy Cheng, Scripps, “Assimilating into Difference: Multiethnic and Multiracial Histories of the San Gabriel Valley”

Jane Hong, Occidental College, “Asian American Evangelicals & Southern California Histories”

Oliver Wang, California State University, Long Beach, “The Nisei Week Cruise: Japanese American Car Culture in the 1970s and ’80s”

Linda Trinh Vo, University of California, Irvine, “Crafting Community: Vietnamese Americans in Orange County”

Gordon Chang, Stanford University

3:15–4:45 p.m. | Panel 3: Future Provocations
This final panel will consider the future of Asian America—in particular, how Asians and Asian Americans might learn from and build on past experiences to create a more equitable future. Topics might include grass-roots activism; legal reforms; governmental policy; globalism/cosmopolitanism; art and activism; the future of Asian and Asian-American identities; allyship with other minority groups; and educational priorities. With shorter presentations, this panel will make space for discussion among speakers and with the audience.

Manjusha P. Kulkarni, AAPI Equity Alliance, “Resistance and Resilience: Asian Americans’ Response to Hate”

Jimenez Lai, Bureau Spectacular

Karin Wang, University of California, Los Angeles, “Asian Americans: Racialization and Privilege”

Jeff Chang, writer

Yinshi Lerman-Tan, The Huntington

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This symposium is made possible through generous support from the Sammy Yukuan Lee Foundation and the Justin Vajna Memorial Fund for Educational Programs in the Chinese Garden.