As we reflect on the last week of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, LCV is highlighting some of the parks, public lands and waters, and historic sites that preserve, and share the stories of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander people and communities in this country. From marine national monuments to cultural and economic sites to preservation of internment camps so that we do not forget this dark chapter in our nation’s history, these protected places tell a more complete story of our country, our history, and the people who have long been a part of both.
[Internment Camp Map, NPS, https://home.nps.gov/manz/learn/historyculture/images/WarRelocationMap.jpg]
The racist relocation and imprisonment of 120,000 primarily Japanese Americans under unfounded claims of disloyalty during the Second World War were clear acts of deplorable injustice by the United States federal government. The preservation of the ten internment sites – where tens of thousands of lives were unjustly uprooted and stripped of their property and belongings – help to share the gut-wrenching stories of individuals and families who have continued to suffer for generations since their incarceration. These are places to reflect upon our nation’s racist policy against Japanese Americans and underscore the importance of public education to prevent history from repeating itself.
Hono’uli’uli National Historic Site, designated as a national monument by President Obama in 2015, aims to tell the stories of those impacted by incarceration, martial law, and prisoners of war during WWII, and is the site of the largest and longest operating internment camp. During its time of operation, the camp imprisoned 400 Japanese Americans and 4,000 prisoners of war.
Manzanar National Historic Site in California is where 11,070 Japanese Americans, largely from the Los Angeles area, were incarcerated between 1942 and 1945. After the war ended, ministers of both Buddhist and Christian faith journeyed each year in honor of those who died in the camp, which has since turned into an annual pilgrimage of remembrance of the atrocities of the war, and public education and preservation of the site’s history. The region has a deep-rooted history of displacement, and is also home to Paiute and Shoshone people who previously faced death and displacement from the government. Congress passed a bill to protect the site in 1992.
After decades of efforts from descendants of those incarcerated and community members, Congress passed legislation earlier this year to create the Amache National Historic Site in Colorado to preserve the history of the thousands of Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated. Formally known as the Granada Relocation Center, more than 10,000 people were incarcerated at Amache between 1942-1945.
Cultural & Economic Sites
Many other sites share the deep-rooted cultural, social and economic labor of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander people to our nation’s history, who often faced systemic racism, intense discrimination, redlining and segregation, and even legislative exclusion from immigrating to the United States. These sites help tell the stories of those who risked their lives to build this country, fought for fairer wages and decent working conditions, and impacted labor movements.
The Golden Spike National Historical Park in Utah preserves 2,735 acres of land around where the Transcontinental Railroad first connected the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads. While the railroad was built by thousands of workers from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, more than 11,000 Chinese workers were vital to the construction of this project. Chinese workers faced extreme racism persisting for generations after the railroad’s completion with the Chinese Exclusion Acts, redlining, and segregation, in addition to substandard working and living conditions compared to their white counterparts, and navigating difficult and often incredibly dangerous terrain through the Sierra Nevada mountains.
[Forty Acres National Historic Landmark, National Parks Service, https://www.nps.gov/media/photo/gallery.htm?pg=6651091&id=A7DB9A97-9759-440A-8A92-FC448B2951C6]
The Forty Acres National Historic Landmark in Delano, California marks the former headquarters for the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), the first permanent U.S. agricultural labor union. The site preserves the history of UFW working with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), made up primarily of Filipinos and led by Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, Benjamin Gines, and Pete Velasco, to fight for fair wages and working conditions. Risking eviction and violence from hired strike breakers, the farm workers went on strike against multiple grape farms in California for increased pay equal to the federal minimum wage. This was one of the actions taken up by the UFW and Forty Acres that left significant impacts on the Farmworker Movement, changing the ways in which agricultural workers across the entire nation were treated.
[The Keku Canning Co. Office Store at the Kake Cannery National Historic Landmark, Alaska, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/places/kake-cannery.htm]
The Kake Cannery (Keku Cannery) National Historic Landmark is the only cannery in the United States to be designated a historical landmark. Located in Alaska, the cannery preserves the stories and tells the history of the Pacific salmon canning industry that was propelled by Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and other international workers. The cannery sits on the summer fishing ground of the Indigenous Kake Tinglits, a mile from the Indigenous village. Originally, Natives made up a large portion of the worker population, yet, by the 1930s, contracted workers made up the majority of the workforce. Hoping it would stimulate the local economy, the cannery was acquired by the federal government for the Organized Village of Kake (the reorganized name of the Indigenous Kake Tinglits) in 1950. The Tinglits already incorporated fishing as an important part of their lifestyle and saw the cannery as a way to base their economy around this cultural practice.
Marine National Monuments
One of the most important conservation tools, the Antiquities Act of 1906, gives the president the authority to protect places of historic and scientific interest by designating them as national monuments. Since it passed nearly 116 years ago, presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, have established or expanded 158 national monuments, which include a handful of monuments that protect Asian Pacific history and heritage.
[ 1. Map https://www.papahanaumokuakea.gov/images/maps/visit-basemap.png 2. Ceremonial Temple on Mokumanamana, which is a part of Papahānaumokuākea, Kaleomanuiwa Wong, https://flic.kr/p/whjcjz 3. Nihoa, part of Papahānaumokuākea, seen from a Polynesian voyaging canoe, Brad Ka‘aleleo Wong/Office of Hawaiian Affairs, https://flic.kr/p/YgEYr4]
In 2016, President Barack Obama expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, the ancient sacred area where all life is believed to begin and end, and is home to a diverse range of hundreds of native species to encompass 582,578 square miles of islands and the surrounding ocean, making it the largest permanently protected place under U.S. jurisdiction.
Protection of this sacred area builds upon over a decade of work by the Native Hawaiian community, specifically the Papahānaumokuākea Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group, to lead a collaborative management framework called Mai Ka Pō Mai. This document guides the integration of traditional Indigenous concepts, cultural traditions, values, and practices into management, giving Native Hawaiian voices equal weight as state and federal. Mai Ka Pō Mai is based in the Native Hawaiian worldviews recognizing Papahānaumokuākea as a portal between Pō (the realm of ancestral spirits) and Ao (the realm of the living). The document also outlines several strategies to ensure management decisions reflect and apply this knowledge of Hawaiian culture such as Hālau ‘Ōhi‘a, a professional development training for community members and resource managers to learn Hawaiian cultural skills and methodology and how to apply them to collaborative management of the monument. Mai Ka Pō Ma could serve as a model for how to use the rich traditions and cultures of the area to help protect and manage parks.
In 2009, President Bush designated Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, an area while unpopulated, has been visited by Polynesians for a thousand years and referred to as “Nu’u O Manu” (“Village of seabirds”). The monument protects approximately 13,436 square miles near American Samoa and includes a rich and uniquely rose-hued reef ecosystem home to many threatened and endangered species, including critical nesting sites for sea turtles and seabirds. Rose Atoll remains one of the most pristine atolls (ring-shaped reefs) in the world.
The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, also designated in 2009, is known as the “Grand Canyon” of the ocean. It expands across 95,216 square miles of submerged lands and waters and is one of the deepest places on Earth. Indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian cultures are intimately tied to the ocean, with the trench serving as an important point for fishing. Thus, its preservation remains vital for Native communities to be able to intergenerationally pass down these traditional practices. Since 2008, the Friends of the Mariana Trench, made up of residents and Natives of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, have been working to protect and preserve the trench. The Friends advocate for co-management of the trench between local and federal governments, incorporate Chamorro and Carolinian traditions into their advocacy, and are working towards an economic framework that directs federal funding and visitor spending to the community.
Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander leaders and supporters across the Conservation Voter Movement and with current and future partner organizations are crucial to the efforts to protect parks and public lands and water while making access to nature more equitable. We look forward to working together to better preserve our environmental and cultural resources.