LA History Museum hosts Smithsonian exhibition on Asian immigrants, laborers

Courtesy of U.S. Library of Congress
Japanese-American internees cultivate the earth at the Tule Lake War Relocation Center during World War II. The photo is among those featured in the new Smithsonian exhibition on Asian immigrants at the Los Altos History Museum.

The Los Altos History Museum’s next exhibition, “I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story,” is scheduled to open Oct. 19 and run through Jan. 7. An opening reception featuring San Jose Taiko is set for 1-4 p.m. Oct. 22 at the museum.

Created by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the display explores the deep connection between the Asian Pacific community and the land, focusing on agriculture and the history of immigration.

“I Want the Wide American Earth” chronicles the rich and complex stories of the first Asian laborers arriving along the Gulf and Eastern American seaboards in the 17th and 18th centuries. From there, it tells stories of Asian immigrants finding homes and participating in key moments in U.S. history. Asian immigrants were miners and business people during the California Gold Rush, hammered the ties in the Transcontinental Railroad, fought on both sides of the Civil War and helped build the nation’s agricultural system as they farmed plantations in Hawaii and California.

Paired with photos and artifacts from local residents and the History Museum’s collection, the Los Altos exhibition will highlight the vital role played by Japanese and Chinese immigrants in the agricultural evolution of the area, from the planting of apricots to the creation of gardens and nurseries.

The exhibition also addresses difficult issues, including how Asian immigrants struggled with legal exclusion and prejudice, culminating in unlawful detention during World War II.

“We are excited that this exhibition, curated by experts from the Smithsonian, will be coming to Los Altos, and we look forward to presenting the local dimension to this national narrative,” said Elisabeth I. Ward, executive director of the Los Altos History Museum. “We have some artifacts in our collection that are exceptional to support this exhibition that have rarely been on display.”

Programs related to the exhibition are designed to add dimension to the subject matter. Topics include:

• The Asian Pacific American Experience

• Coming to America

• Immigration and Civil Rights

• Hope and Opportunity

• Technology Entrepreneurs and Mentors

Eleanor Watanabe, co-president of the Los Altos History Museum Board of Directors, assembled a team of exhibition program advisers that includes Margaret Abe, King Lit Ching, Rowena Chow, Belinda Chung, Kristen Fuller, Jane Reed, Antonia Tu and Connie Young Yu.

The exhibition is supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, with additional local sponsorship by Los Altos Community Foundation.

The Los Altos History Museum is located at 51 S. San Antonio Road. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is free.


For more information on the exhibition, call 948-9427 or visit

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