The devastating wildfires that swept through Lahaina, Maui, in the late summer of 2023 serve as a stark reminder of the precarity of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage in a world made ever more fragile by the climate crisis. Gone are architectural gems that once were tangible reminders of Indigenous Kānaka Maoli place making and waves of migration and settlement from Asia, including the 1933 Lahaina Hongwanji Mission and the historic streetscape of Front Street. The nearly one hundred confirmed deaths and more than 2,000 scorched acres make vivid the imperative to protect AAPI heritage as a simple matter of justice.1

More than three decades of efforts to document AAPI buildings and landscapes in Hawaii, California, and the Pacific Northwest have revealed a wide array of cultural resources associated with at least three AAPI groups: Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino Americans. In recent years, the focus has extended to cultural landscapes associated with Korean, South and Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander heritage. Organizing efforts within these communities have led to progress in the documentation and listing of these places on landmark registers, as reflected in the 2007 founding of Asian & Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP).2

The preservation of AAPI heritage, however, hinges on underlying scholarship that documents the history of these communities and the spaces they have shaped, occupied, and used from earliest settlement to the present day. Mapping the fields that are relevant to writing Asian American architectural histories makes it clear that the architectural history of Asia has long operated as a field separate from Asian American studies. Only in recent decades have architectural historians and preservationists foregrounded buildings and landscapes as a significant part of AAPI heritage, making them key objects of inquiry through field surveys, archival research, oral history methods, place-based documentation, and preservation action. The tangible remains of California’s Japantowns, Stockton’s Filipino community, and Hawaii’s Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, as well as the ephemeral traces of early immigrants from India, are just a few examples of largely untapped bases of knowledge relevant to a new generation of architectural historians in search of topics that might benefit from more substantial treatment in dissertations, journal articles, and monographs.3 It is worth noting that efforts to preserve AAPI heritage, captured in Franklin Odo’s thematic study for the National Park Service, have not only assembled a body of knowledge but also stimulated advocacy for AAPI built environments and cultural landscapes.4 Now arising from this fertile soil are architectural histories that expand the archives and move beyond documentation of known sites to interpret patterns within this field.5

Signs of intellectual vitality in AAPI architectural history abound as preservationists organize to document and preserve the landmarks of AAPI heritage and architectural historians within SAH have formed their own AAPI affiliate group.6 Their interests and concerns have shaped numerous SAH programs, including virtual gatherings, initiated under the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, devoted to the topical, methodological, pedagogical, and practical issues involved in integrating AAPI concerns into architectural history.7 For Asia-based scholars, such developments, especially online meetings and conferences, make it possible to transcend the barriers of geographical distance and cost of travel associated with in-person conferences. Intellectually, however, the perennial question arises regarding the relationship between scholarship developed in the United States and that developed globally in the Asian diaspora. Where does one begin and the other end in its objects of inquiry and the scope of the field?

Rising efforts to organize conferences, particularly in virtual format, reflect the complexity of the Asian diaspora and scholarly communities engaged in studies with transnational dimensions. Emergent interest in AAPI architectural history has opened new lines of inquiry that are neither clearly bounded nor conceptually stable, given the transnational positioning of those whose lives include attachments to more than one nation. Moreover, the complexity of individual identity, as articulated in the concept of intersectionality, calls for nuanced approaches. So, too, the long history of imperial ambitions in the Pacific, whether British, Japanese, or American, as brilliantly articulated by Eiichiro Azuma, means that distant places are intimately bound by legacies of colonial rule and resistance.8 Scholarly investigation thus requires a relational approach to metropoles and peripheries, and to diasporic peoples and their complicated connections to homelands old, new, remembered, and imagined. These complex relationships necessarily disrupt past models of intellectual expertise customarily segmented into discrete area studies. As a result, AAPI architectural history addresses inherently messy, unbounded, and contested terrain. All of these conditions shape emerging debates regarding which objects of study, geographic bases, identities, and theoretical frameworks are appropriate to scholarship on AAPI architecture in the United States and in global perspective.

The essays in this JSAH Roundtable deal with these key issues, drawing on the foundational work of scholars in Asian American studies to examine how cultural landscapes in the United States have been shaped by both early and more recent immigrants from Asia whose lives have been structured by the impact of contemporary politics, wars, immigration restrictions, and geopolitical posturing. The authors challenge and expand familiar definitions of “Asian American” and “architecture” to include vernacular, ephemeral, and imagined cultural landscapes affected by the agency of diasporic communities.

The roundtable opens with Arijit Sen and Nicole Ranganath’s analysis of the material and imagined cultural landscapes of South Asian migrant laborers in California’s Central Valley; it closes with Jeremy Lee Wolin’s examination of more contemporary issues of racial identity and positioning. These authors point to the importance of familiar landscapes projected onto transnational sites of settlement, the networks of related buildings and spaces that constitute community, and the central role of these landscapes in driving resistance across multiple national settings. The paucity of built remains presents a continuing challenge to the preservation of South Asian heritage sites in the United States, but the cultural landscapes that inscribe patterns of migration endure within the immigrant imaginary even as they appear ephemeral. Building on a wide body of scholarship on AAPI settlement patterns, Sen and Ranganath fill gaps within the long history of the South Asian diaspora in the United States, thereby expanding discourses that have focused primarily on the post-1965 chapter of this migration.9

In a similar vein, Jonathan Cortez expands beyond canonical monuments and elite architects to consider the ephemeral, vernacular landscapes of Chinese migrant encampments on the U.S.-Mexico border. The complexity of migration patterns illuminated by the roundtable’s first two essays evokes Erika Lee’s “hemispheric approach” to Asian American history, as well as the absence of liminal, transitional cultural landscapes in architectural archives and histories.10 Such investigations remind us of the indispensable advocacy of AAPI communities and historic preservation specialists, and their efforts to document and preserve even liminal traces of AAPI mobility and agency.

In contrast, Wolin’s closing essay focuses on current conditions faced by Asian communities in New York City. Intentionally linking the built environment and contemporary issues of social justice, this nuanced study of the racialized discourses surrounding Korean corner stores in the post-1965 era of increasing immigration from Asia to the United States and greater diversity among Asian immigrants highlights the tenuousness of the acceptance of these immigrants within mainstream American society, as well as the flows and shifts in immigration patterns in tandem with geopolitical and military patterns of interaction. Wolin’s analysis of the notion of racial triangulation centers on the lived and material reality of racialized, small-scale commercial landscapes.

The essays by Ian Morley and Edson G. Cabalfin address the impacts of colonialism and transnational architectural education on modern architecture and urbanism in colonial and postindependence Philippines. Morley’s examination of the pensionados, government-sponsored Filipino students who studied in the United States, reveals how they applied their new education to shape a Philippine modern architecture that transcended colonial influence. Cabalfin’s study shows how leading Filipino architects sought to subvert the trope of the primitive to embrace modernity as a strategy for establishing a postcolonial identity in their designs for Philippine pavilions at world’s fairs in the postwar United States. The approaches of these two roundtable contributors complicate the national boundaries that typically delimit Asian American cultural production. While also pointing out how architects charged with representing national identity in a postcolonial society handled tensions between Indigenous vernacular forms and modernist aesthetics, Cabalfin positions the Philippines as a site ripe for critical inquiries into race, nation, and the meanings of modernity within architectural history.

Vishvesh Prabhakar Kandolkar and R. Benedito Ferrão’s work on Charles Correa’s Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations similarly evokes the transnational nature of architectural education and practice. The authors argue that key material and spatial aspects of the PMI building reflect Correa’s allegiance to regional materials and spatial conceptions, rather than a unified architectural expression of Indian national identity.

Departing from a long tradition of scholarship aestheticizing Japan through its art and architecture, more recent research has pivoted toward issues of social justice, as attested by Lynne Horiuchi’s investigation of the mass incarceration of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II.11 Along those lines, William Littmann’s discussion of Japanese American resettlement camps and hostels raises questions about housing needs in the postwar period. By examining the array of manufactured, congregate, and other housing types available to Japanese Americans during this transitional period, Littmann demonstrates that the precarity they experienced while incarcerated extended for as much as a decade beyond the end of the war. He not only explores issues of inclusion and exclusion in postwar ideals of suburban domesticity and single-family homeownership but also forges connections to an emergent literature about Asians in California and Asian-majority suburbs in the post-1965 period.

This collection of intentionally short and exploratory essays sets the stage for us to ask where the field might go from here. One way to answer this expansive question is to consider existing limitations on the fundamentals of our scholarship: the who, where, and how. The task of building a working canon of knowledge about AAPI architectural history goes beyond filling in gaps in a reactive, mechanical way. Every historiographical gap—be it the dearth of information on women’s experiences, the lack of Southeast Asian or Native Hawaiian representation, or the failure to include queer spaces and perspectives—requires active interrogation. What are the factors that contributed to these gaps, and how do we remedy them to develop new ways of writing about AAPI landscapes and environments?

The first consideration is, whose voices are narrating AAPI histories? Rather than talk about or around AAPI built environments without engaging the words and perspectives of AAPI individuals, we should, in our use of primary sources, prioritize and respect the historical weight of the words, thoughts, and interpretations of these individuals about their own lives and creativity. The recently completed project to identify architects and designers of AAPI heritage by the Smithsonian Institution Cooper Hewitt Museum, in partnership with SAH, demonstrated the extraordinary possibilities for expanding existing archives by proactively collecting the family and professional papers of early practitioners, as illustrated in one of the first full-length articles in JSAH on Asian American architecture, a study of the life and career of Iwahiko Tsumanuma (aka Thomas Rockrise, 1878–1936).12 Many descendants of AAPI architects and current practitioners are eager to share their attic-bound boxes of old family papers, just as many firms are happy to open their corporate archives to scholars. Descendants are also frequently willing to share their personal memories, and they tend to be generous about sitting for extended interviews. By stepping beyond the limits of existing institutional collections to build their own archives—or, better yet, open-access collections—emerging scholars become the engines of transformation rather than mere critics of inequities. The decolonization of archives will not be achieved fully until every archive is truly accessible to all, standing apart from state apparatuses of any kind.

This JSAH Roundtable begins the work of casting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as protagonists of architectural narratives, as well as openly addressing archival gaps when their words have not been located. Yet we can go one step beyond turning to AAPI for testimonials, by treating their consciousness of identity and subjectivity as essential guideposts to our historiography of built spaces. When Cathy Park Hong confesses in her New York Times bestseller Minor Feelings that she had internalized the bias that “writing about [her] racial identity was minor and non-urgent,” the intentional but also sincere irony casts a glaring light on how rarely AAPI have been credited with the intellectual capacity to speak about, analyze, and construct understandings of their own identities and experiences.13 One way to move scholarship forward is to amplify AAPI voices and perceptions as substantial and urgent.

Second, where do we locate AAPI spaces? The essays in this roundtable gravitate toward the West Coast and New York City, although they do not concentrate exclusively on ethnic neighborhoods or urban environments. Given that the steady movement of Asians to the United States began in the late eighteenth century, many generations of AAPI have left cultural-spatial footprints throughout the vast expanse of U.S. territories and protectorates, not just in a handful of coastal cities. To understand that members of the Asian and Pacific Islander diaspora do not constitute a cohesive or homogeneous group, even within specific ethnicities, scholarship must acknowledge the range of spatial practices that make use of vernacular to high-style architecture, private to public, individual to collective spaces, to define identities and facilitate self-expression. We should avoid the tendency to apply two common historiographical treatments: the sequestered AAPI on one hand and the assimilated AAPI on the other. The former approach marks AAPI as perpetual foreigners; the latter renders them invisible. A new direction in scholarship would be to emphasize the architectural implications of the connections between and among the two or more geocultural worlds that Asian Americans inhabit. Furthermore, we need to draw those worlds in inclusive ways to avoid flattening individuals to standard categories, such as male, cisgender, and heterosexual.

Third, how do we frame AAPI narratives? Beyond presenting yet another set of racialized minorities to expand the contours of a hitherto white-centric architectural history, paving the way for a dynamic future of the field requires setting different centers and acknowledging diverse values. In the words of David K. Yoo and Eiichiro Azuma, “It is critical to mark Asian American history as more than seeking inclusion.”14 If we are interested in how connections with, and movements across, oceans, countries, and continents have made the United States what it is for more than two centuries, then AAPI history is American history, unqualified. As Fernando Luiz Lara asserts in an earlier JSAH Roundtable on the Americas, there is no reason to perpetuate the notion of “any architecture not produced by European white males as peripheral.”15 By centering AAPI actors in these narratives, this roundtable offers new angles of vision from which to view the history of the built environment not only in the United States but in transnational perspective. The transnational turn has disrupted fundamental theories and methods of architectural history by moving beyond fixed, lasting objects and places to adopt nonbinary and relational modes of analysis. The power of this shift lies in the way it enables us to see the built environment as diasporic people generally do and in its instigation of the decentering of architectural history as the prerogative of any one culture, ethnicity, or even language.

While we were writing this introduction (in September 2023), yet another highly troubling incident of anti-Asian hate occurred: the vandalism of the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle.16 The perpetrator chose this community-based AAPI cultural institution to vent his anger against not a person in particular but a vague conception of “the Chinese.” Like Lahaina, the Wing Luke Museum represents rich layers of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. Located in the historic Chinatown-International District, it is an award-winning restoration and conversion of a 1910 multistory hotel and gathering place for Asian immigrants into an active place for sharing history, memory, and cultural-artistic creation (Figure 1). The vandal used a sledgehammer to destroy nine ground-level windows, intentionally shattering not only the building but also the well-being of individuals whose place in the United States to this day continues to be questioned and delegitimated. The need to address AAPI built spaces and landscapes is clearly major and urgent. We hope these brief contributions open the doors to fuller scholarship on related topics both in JSAH and beyond.

Figure 1

Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, Wing Luke Museum, Seattle, 2008 (photo by Lara Swimmer; courtesy of Olson Kundig).

Figure 1

Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, Wing Luke Museum, Seattle, 2008 (photo by Lara Swimmer; courtesy of Olson Kundig).

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Notes

1.

See Society of Architectural Historians Heritage Conservation Committee, “Statement on the Maui Wildfires in Hawai‘i,” SAH Newsletter, 3 Oct. 2023, https://www.sah.org/publications-and-research/sah-newsletter/sah-newsletter-ind/2023/10/03/statement-on-the-maui-wildfires-in-hawai-i (accessed 11 Oct. 2023).

2.

One example from the growing literature on AAPI preservation is Michelle G. Magalong, “Equity and Social Inclusion from the Ground Up: Historic Preservation in Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities,” in Preservation and Social Inclusion, ed. Erica Avrami (New York: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2020).

3.

On the preservation of California’s Japantowns, see the website California Japantowns, https://www.californiajapantowns.org/index.html (accessed 24 Sept. 2023). On the Filipino community in Stockton, see Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, Little Manila Is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2013). On Hawaii’s Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, see George J. Tanabe, Japanese Buddhist Temples in Hawai‘i: An Illustrated Guide (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012).

4.

Franklin Odo, ed., Finding a Path Forward: Asian American Pacific Islander National Historic Landmarks Theme Study (Washington, D.C.: National Historic Landmarks Program, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2017), https://www.nps.gov/articles/series.htm?id=37E8E9F7-1DD8-B71B-0B828D45BDC9222D (accessed 11 Oct. 2023).

5.

See Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2015).

6.

The SAH Asian American and Diasporic Architectural History Affiliate Group was formed in 2020.

7.

The AAPI-focused SAH events organized from 2020 through 2023 were “Asian American Architecture: Mapping the Field and Its Futures,” a roundtable at the 2020 SAH Virtual Conference (https://vimeo.com/424860837); “Community Engagement and Social Justice in Architectural History,” a workshop at the 2021 SAH Virtual Conference (https://www.sah.org/2021-virtual-conference/roundtables/community-engagement-and-social-justice-in-architectural-history); “SAH-CHSDM Roundtable: Rediscovering Asian American and Pacific Islander Designers and Architects,” a SAH CONNECTS event in March 2022 (https://www.sah.org/conferences-and-programs/sah-connects/2022/rediscovering-aapi-architects-and-designers); and “Asian American and Pacific Islander Architects and Designers: Findings and Next Steps,” a SAH CONNECTS event in March 2023 (https://www.sah.org/conferences-and-programs/sah-connects/2023/asian-american-and-pacific-islander-architects-and-designers-findings-and-next-steps).

8.

Eiichiro Azuma, Between Two Empires: Race, History, and Transnationalism in Japanese America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). See also Eiichiro Azuma, In Search of Our Frontier: Japanese America and Settler Colonialism in the Construction of Japan’s Borderless Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019).

9.

The year 1965 marked the end of the national-origins quota system in the United States, a change in policy that gave rise to large-scale immigration from Asia as well as many other parts of the globe.

10.

Erika Lee, “Orientalisms in the Americas: A Hemispheric Approach to Asian American History,” Journal of Asian American Studies 8, no. 3 (Oct. 2005), 235–56.

11.

See Lynne Horiuchi, “Architects at War: Designing Prison Cities for Japanese American Communities,” in Diversity and Design: Understanding Hidden Consequences, ed. Beth Tauke, Korydon Smith, and Charles Davis (London: Routledge, 2016).

12.

Gail Dubrow, Sean H. McPherson, and Yao-Fen You, “Rediscovering Asian American and Pacific Islander Architects and Designers: A Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and Society of Architectural Historians Initiative,” Final Report, 8 Mar. 2023; Gail Dubrow, in collaboration with Christina M. Rockrise, Alyssa Gregory, and Sarah Pawlicki, “Practicing Architecture under the Bamboo Ceiling: The Life and Work of Iwahiko Tsumanuma (Thomas S. Rockrise), 1878–1936,” JSAH 80, no. 3 (Sept. 2021), 280–303.

13.

Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (New York: One World, 2020), 184.

14.

David K. Yoo and Eiichiro Azuma, “Introduction,” in The Oxford Handbook of Asian American History, ed. David K. Yoo and Eiichiro Azuma (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 1.

15.

Fernando Luiz Lara, “Editor’s Introduction: Unlearning Eurocentrism,” in “What Frameworks Should We Use to Read the Spatial History of the Americas?,” roundtable, JSAH 81, no. 2 (June 2022), 134.

16.

“Man Charged with Hate Crime after Vandalism at Wing Luke Museum,” Seattle Times, 18 Sept. 2023, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/man-charged-with-hate-crime-after-vandalizing-wing-luke-museum (accessed 24 Sept. 2023).

Architectural historiography and mainstream preservation practice tend to focus on buildings that retain their material integrity. When buildings no longer exist, scholars use archaeological evidence and archival documents.1 This focus on individual buildings and written documents limits our understanding of the heritage landscapes of migrant communities, whose impacts on the built environment may not be permanent and whose records may be absent from traditional archives. The story of early Sikh immigrants to the United States, who came from the Punjab region of British India beginning in the 1890s, is a case in point. As new arrivals, these immigrants lived itinerant lives while working on the railroads or in lumberyards along the Pacific coast, until they settled as farmworkers in California’s Central Valley in the early 1900s. Apart from a Sikh gurdwara in Stockton, these laborers rarely owned land or constructed buildings as their European counterparts did. Most of them were male and lived as bachelors. They left few written records.2 Instead, the Sikh immigrants mapped mountains, rivers, orchards, and irrigation canals alongside labor camps, farm property lines, homes, stores, and places of worship as they claimed their space in the United States. They carried these spatial images in their minds as they reconstrued California’s Sacramento Valley as their own, noting that its climate and topography bore striking similarities to the land of Punjab.3 Author Amitav Ghosh argues that Indian immigrants created a sense of place for themselves in the diaspora by drawing on “metaphors of space” infinitely reproduced through “constant use and repetition in their everyday lives.”4 Such landscapes still remain in the collective memory of their descendants.5

This essay focuses on imaginary and material landscapes of Sikh American heritage in the Yuba City–Marysville region of California.6 In our research, we have documented homes, places of worship, labor camps, and extant farm buildings in the region, and have also conducted extensive oral history interviews with descendants of the early migrants to capture how people remember their heritage landscapes. Descriptions of rivers and mountains in India and California enter our narration of heritage landscapes as we explore songs and stories passed down through generations. The Pioneering Punjabi Digital Archives at the University of California, Davis, is a rich repository of Sikh immigrants’ photographs, home videos, speeches, diaries, passports, and family albums. These research methods are relevant to other architectural historians who are interested in documenting heritage landscapes of Asian American and Pacific Islander groups who, because of a lack of written, architectural, and archival evidence, remain marginalized and underrepresented in our disciplinary scholarship.

We argue that the architectural history of pioneering Punjabi Sikh immigrants should be written as a regional landscape history—made of buildings, memories of buildings, real and imagined landscapes, and networks of homes, stores, gurdwaras, and meeting spaces. In order to explore what such a landscape might resemble, in this essay we examine the labor camp residence of Munsha Singh Thiara (dating back to 1920) and the cluster of his family’s residences near Yuba City. Munsha was one of the first Punjabi Sikh immigrants to settle in the Yuba City area, and he was among the most successful (Figure 2). Born in 1893 in Punjab, he left his village for North America as a teenager, traveling with a group of men from his village. Arriving in Vancouver in 1907 aboard the Empress of Canada, he soon made his way south to California’s Central Valley, where he worked for the Western Pacific Railroad as a migrant farm laborer. Over the next decade, he rose to the rank of foreman and saved enough money to purchase 20 acres of land in the Yuba City area in 1918.7 Unable to own land legally, he formed a silent partnership with a local white farmer. He also worked as a foreman in the Stafford Van Tiger peach orchards, supervising his fellow Sikh farm laborers. His home was adjacent to the Sikh labor camp on the Van Tiger farm. In his 1950 master’s thesis, Allan Miller describes how the men in such labor camps shared communal meals on large dining tables set outside the camp buildings. The farms were spaces for intercultural contact among Punjabi, Mexican, Japanese, and, to a lesser extent, Black and white farm laborers.8 In 1939 and 1951, Munsha sponsored the sons of his brother Sohan Singh Thiara to immigrate to the United States.9 Munsha remained a bachelor and continued to live in the dwelling on the farm even after he had sponsored his extended family; his family members settled on or near the farm Munsha purchased in Live Oak in 1920 (Figure 3).

Figure 2

Munsha Singh Thiara, Marysville, California, 2 November 1934 (photo courtesy of the Munsha Singh Thiara family).

Figure 2

Munsha Singh Thiara, Marysville, California, 2 November 1934 (photo courtesy of the Munsha Singh Thiara family).

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Figure 3

Munsha Singh Thiara’s nephews, Harsev (left) and Bhagat (right), with their daughters and an unidentified visitor from India, Live Oak, California, 1950s (photo courtesy of the Munsha Singh Thiara family).

Figure 3

Munsha Singh Thiara’s nephews, Harsev (left) and Bhagat (right), with their daughters and an unidentified visitor from India, Live Oak, California, 1950s (photo courtesy of the Munsha Singh Thiara family).

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Historical shifts in residence patterns are an important part of heritage landscapes. Unlike the ethnic enclaves of other immigrant communities in urban neighborhoods, the settlements of early Sikh immigrants were kin-based clusters centered on patriarchal lineages. By the mid-twentieth century, extended families of these pioneers began to form residential clusters around these initial sites, reflecting a concerted effort by immigrants to re-create patriarchal kinship networks rooted in villages in Punjab. If he had remained in Punjab, Munsha would have probably followed the usual course of establishing a home with a wife and children on his ancestral land near his parents and brothers. After his sons married, the daughters-in-law and eventually their children would have joined him and his wife. Munsha Singh and other pioneers forged new patrilines in rural America with family members clustered around original settlement sites that acted as points of origin for family genealogical landscapes similar to their ancestral villages in Punjab. In the United States, it was as if the family trees were grafted onto their uncles’ patrilines. The Thiara property network demonstrates how the landscape of Sikh American heritage in the Yuba City region was constitutive of smaller family geographies (Figure 4).

Figure 4

Map of the network of Thiara family residences and sites of memory spread across the Yuba City, California, region, showing the current locations of homes of Thiara family descendants as well as extant historic sites (created by Arijit Sen and Nicole Ranganath).

Figure 4

Map of the network of Thiara family residences and sites of memory spread across the Yuba City, California, region, showing the current locations of homes of Thiara family descendants as well as extant historic sites (created by Arijit Sen and Nicole Ranganath).

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The scope of our history includes a transnational imaginary that connects sites across multiple national locations.10 We argue for the need to preserve these sites of memory because these places are important nodes from which a transnational anticolonial struggle against the British Empire was launched during the twentieth century. The homes, yards, stores, gurdwaras, and farmsteads that made up this network also served as sites of resistance to racially discriminatory laws targeting Asian immigrants in the United States and at home. Landscape features such as mountains, rivers, orchards, and irrigation canals became part of this geography of resistance where racially diverse laborers met and interacted. Mapping these sites as a system also reveals how social boundaries between the white and nonwhite communities were carefully negotiated through the ways these spaces were accessed and organized in the landscape.

Even today, the Sikh Americans of Yuba City perform an annual procession called nagar kirtan, during which the community temporarily takes over the city streets and collectively visits sites of heritage spread across the region but connected along a processional path. They pay homage to their immigrant pioneer families, mark spaces of historical relevance, and congregate at the gurdwara for prayers to celebrate a lived reality built on past memories and networks of interconnected spaces.11

Notes

1.

See Cultural Resources, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation (National Register Bulletin) (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1995), https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/upload/NRB-15_web508.pdf (accessed 11 Oct. 2023).

2.

Karen Leonard, The South Asian Americans (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997), 43.

3.

Johanna Ogden, “Ghadar, Historical Silences, and Notions of Belonging: Early 1900s Punjabis of the Columbia River,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 113, no. 2 (2012), 164–97; Karen Leonard, “Finding One’s Own Place: Asian Landscapes Re-visioned in Rural California,” in Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology, ed. Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997), 118–36.

4.

Amitav Ghosh, “The Diaspora in Indian Culture,” Public Culture 2, no. 1 (1989), 77.

5.

See Nicole Ranganath, “ ‘Double Passage’: Marriage and Migration in Punjabi American Women’s Narratives,” Journal of Sikh & Punjab Studies 27, no. 1 (Spring 2020), 65–94.

6.

Yuba City is home to more than twenty thousand Sikh Americans. In South Yuba City, 20.2 percent of the population is Asian Indian. See “Yuba City Area,” Pioneering Punjabis Digital Archives, 2016, https://pioneeringpunjabis.ucdavis.edu/places/destinations/yuba-city (accessed 11 Oct. 2023).

7.

Allan Miller, “An Ethnographic Report on the Sikh (East) Indians of the Sacramento Valley” (master’s thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 1950).

8.

“Hindus Driven Out,” New York Times, 27 Jan. 1908; Tuly Singh Johl, interview by Joan Jensen, Yuba City, 1975, Joan Jensen Asian Indian Immigrant Research Materials, 1975–88, Library Special Collections, University of California, San Diego.

9.

Munsha sponsored his nephews Bhagat and Harsev in 1939 and 1951, respectively.

10.

For instance, the early Punjabi Sikh laborers in California’s Central Valley formed the backbone of the Ghadar Party, a global network aimed at overthrowing British rule in India through a revolt. See Harish K. Puri, Ghadar Movement: Ideology, Organisation, and Strategy (Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev University, 1983); Maia Ramnath, Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism and Attempted to Overthrow the British Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

11.

Michelle Bandur, “ ‘We Welcome Everyone’: Sikh Festival Underway in Yuba City, Largest Celebration outside India,” KCRA 3 News, 4 Nov. 2022, https://www.kcra.com/article/sikh-festival-yuba-city-largest-us-celebration/41873181 (accessed 11 Oct. 2023).

The era of Chinese exclusion in the United States, which officially began in 1882 and ended in 1943, came about as a result of a backlash among white workers as well as growing concerns among the American public over maintaining the white racial purity of the nation. Chinese immigrants during this period, who descended largely from the southern provinces of Guangdon, Fujian, and Guangxi, were subject to numerous discriminatory laws and policies that severely restricted their ability to enter the country, obtain citizenship, and participate in U.S. society. As West Coast ports of entry such as San Francisco became more difficult for them to penetrate due to the immigrant infrastructure of Angel Island, many Chinese immigrants sought to enter the United States via alternate routes, including by crossing the tumultuous U.S.-Mexico border. They journeyed south to enter Mexico and then traveled north toward the U.S. border, where they made camp and utilized existing built environments as a purposeful tactic in their struggle against the nativist and racist efforts of the U.S. government to keep them out. Their ephemeral encampments provide insight into the worlds built in the shadows of xenophobic laws and on the peripheries of the nation.

What kind of physical infrastructure does immigration policy engender? Further, how do immigrants facilitate their own spatial dynamics as a response to their forced exclusion from the nation-state?

Present-day answers to these questions might reveal the legacies of prisons, detention facilities, and emergency intake centers. However, of more concern for this essay are the campsites, tent cities, and informal living spaces immigrants make out of necessity and in response to harsh deterrence laws. “Remain in Mexico” policies and Title 42 expulsions instituted by President Donald Trump, for example, increased the number of informal camps on the Mexican side of the border. In 2019, then former Second Lady Jill Biden, upon visiting an informal refugee camp in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, exclaimed, “It’s not who we are as Americans. We are a welcoming nation, but that’s not the message that we’re sending at the border. We’re saying, ‘Stop. Don’t come in.’ ” However, these ephemeral camps continue to dot the borderlands and have done so since the southern border’s fortification in the late 19th century (Figure 5).

Figure 5

Migrant tent camp in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, formed after the implementation of President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policies in 2019 (photo by Lexie Harrison-Cripps via Getty Images).

Figure 5

Migrant tent camp in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, formed after the implementation of President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policies in 2019 (photo by Lexie Harrison-Cripps via Getty Images).

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In 1908, in the tall grasses of southeast Texas about 100 yards away from any established road, an immigration official stumbled upon what he believed was a Mexican migrant encampment, based on the typical Mexican fashion worn by the occupants. However, when he realized that their Spanish “was strongly tinged with the Chinese accent,” he quickly drew his pistol.1 Twelve migrants followed his orders to surrender, while six others fled. After searching camp tents and abandoned structures, the immigration officer led the captives to the local jail. The group of eighteen immigrants had entered the United States days earlier by evading established ports of entry and had set up camp using the natural environment, established buildings, and unconventional materials. They planned to wait patiently for the widely scattered border inspectors to finish sweeping their region. Only then could they depart the encampment disguised as “Mexicans” and attempt to reach the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway toward the interior of the United States.2 While there was little hope of progress for the twelve who were sent to jail and eventually deported, the six Chinese migrants who escaped into the brush hopefully made it to their desired destination. Wherever their journeys may have taken them, for a brief few days they took refuge together in a makeshift encampment in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Making or building campsites took different forms. In the case described above, for instance, the migrants utilized the natural surroundings, such as the overgrown brush, to camouflage themselves within the environment. As the officer approached, “he noticed that several members of the camping party hurried into the underbrush.”3 Settled in the brush, their shelter consisted of three demountable tents, which they carried as they migrated. The visual archive for such camps is sparse, but descriptions from the colonial archive indicates that the tents used were not unlike those employed in the Chinese mining and railroad camps that populated the U.S. West during this same period (Figure 6). The A-frame tents were compactable and light to carry, constructed of canvas fabric and rods that could be reused. In another instance, along the border near Tijuana in 1903, fifteen to twenty Chinese migrants took shelter in an abandoned building on the outskirts of San Diego, California. They used fallen branches and excess building materials to cover the windows and hid for four days as two people from their group went on scouting missions to assess possible threats from U.S. border enforcement. Such use of abandoned buildings became so common that by 1904, officials on both sides of the border near points of entry such as the Tijuana/San Diego crossing and the crossing between the Mexican state of Sonora and the U.S. state of Arizona “cleared away all buildings near the international line.”4 To lessen the opportunity for squatting, Mexican and U.S. immigration officials and local governments demolished any abandoned buildings within 200 yards of the border.

Figure 6

“Chinese camp at the end of the track on the Humboldt Plains in 1868” (photographer unknown; image courtesy of University of California, Los Angeles, Library Special Collections).

Figure 6

“Chinese camp at the end of the track on the Humboldt Plains in 1868” (photographer unknown; image courtesy of University of California, Los Angeles, Library Special Collections).

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Chinese migrants crossing into the US from Mexico became such an issue to the Immigration Services that an immigration official known as Special Agent Irvine disguised himself as a miner and sailed along with Chinese migrants from San Francisco to Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. During the voyage, he “studied their features until [he] could swear to each man’s identity.”5 Historian Anna Pegler-Gordon notes that while Chinese laborers were left out of canonical photographs such as those taken to commemorate the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, their legal exclusion from the country initiated a system of immigration control in which Chinese immigrants were “more closely observed, documented, and photographed than any other immigrant group.”6 After arriving in Guaymas, the migrants Irvine was tracking boarded a train headed north to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, where they would cross into its sister city, Nogales, Arizona. The migrants, however, stopped short of Mexico’s northern border and “went into camp.” Their strategy of pausing was a result of the transnational communication efforts among migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. A letter being passed among migrant networks warned that the entry point in Nogales was occupied by a squadron of immigration officials waiting for the immigrants’ arrival. In a matter of two days, more than 180 Chinese migrants made camp on the Mexican side of the border. While Mexican officials were aware of the encampment, they did not attempt to destroy it or disperse the occupants. The U.S. government considered the migrants gridlocked: “The Chinese camp[ed] near the Border find themselves in an unpleasant predicament. If they cross, they will be captured. They cannot go south or east because of the Apaches, and on the West and northwest lies the great desert.”7 The Chinese migrants held camp for more than a month and a half, until factions began to break off slowly; some employed smugglers to get them across the border, while others took their chances in the potentially deadly desert landscape.

Chinese immigrants were the first to be heavily criminalized and surveilled at both the Canadian and Mexican borders by the late nineteenth century, and they were also the first to engage in acts of fugitivity against the newly established immigration regime as a means of survival. Immigrants’ ephemeral encampments at the U.S. southern border reveal their first attempts to create community for themselves in direct response to Chinese exclusion laws. Recovering their spatial experiences in these encampments requires a shift in the field of architectural history toward the peripheries of the nation. The ephemeral camps of fugitive Chinese immigrants reveal that there is much to learn by inverting the colonial archive and centering acts of building in the brush.

Notes

1.

“The Wily Heathen Chinee [sic],” Washington Post, 9 Aug. 1908. A note regarding archives: The narrative of Chinese immigration to the United States has largely been constructed from sources in the colonial archives (e.g., border inspector records, U.S. Army files, and Anglo-centric English-language newspapers), which have historically been used to diminish the agency of the migrants—many of whom identified with their regional and dialectical communities rather than as “Chinese”—while also reproducing racist and xenophobic views. My goal is to flip this narrative.

2.

For more on Chinese migrants disguising themselves as “Mexican” and other tactics used to cross the U.S.-Mexico border during the age of exclusion, see Julian Lim, Porous Borders: Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017); Julia María Schiavone Camacho, Chinese Mexicans: Transpacific Migration and the Search for a Homeland, 1910–1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012); Elliott Young, Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the Coolie Era through World War II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

3.

“Wily Heathen Chinee.”

4.

“Closer Guard along Border,” Los Angeles Times, 2 Nov. 1904.

5.

“Situation of the Chinese,” Portland Oregonian, 12 June 1890.

6.

Anna Pegler-Gordon, “Chinese Exclusion, Photography, and the Development of U.S. Immigration Policy,” American Quarterly 58, no. 1 (Mar. 2006), 51.

7.

“Situation of the Chinese.”

Within Asian American and Pacific Islander American studies, the Pensionados Program’s significance has not been sufficiently discussed. Established in 1903 by the American colonial government in the Philippine Islands, the program sponsored Filipino young adults to travel to the United States so that they could acquire advanced schooling and “lessons” in modern civilization.1 Bolstering the American desire to train a new generation of bureaucrats and professionals to support colonization efforts, the program sent more than two hundred Filipinos to study in the United States from 1903 to 1912. Having gained education in law, architecture, civil engineering, education, medicine, actuarial math, business, and agriculture, many Pensionados Program participants were employed by the colonial state upon returning home. Among them were architecture graduates Juan Arellano (1888–1960), Tomás Mapúa (1888–1965), and Antonio Toledo (1889–1972).2

Educated in the East Coast Beaux-Arts tradition, Arellano et al. received practical training in artistic, scientific, language, and business-related fields.3 Their expansive schooling, comprising subjects such as drawing, the history of architecture, mathematics, practical geometry, English language and literature, architectural design, construction design, ornamentation, physics, building laws, world history, and business methods, proved especially valuable given the evolving cultural-political situation in their homeland.

Employed by the Division of Architecture (DoA) in the Bureau of Public Works, Arellano, Mapúa, and Toledo translated what they had learned in the United States into a modern Philippine civic architectural vocabulary.4 Against the backdrop of the Philippine Autonomy Act’s passing in 1916, the subsequent Filipinization of the colonial civil service, and, in 1918, the resignation of the DoA’s last American consulting architect, Ralph Doane (1886–1941), the division under the leadership of Arellano, Mapúa, and Toledo redirected the national architectural narrative.5 Encouragement for such change came from many sources, including Doane’s 1918–19 publications in the Quarterly Bulletin, Bureau of Public Works and the Architectural Review, where he implored Filipinos to initiate their “own architecture.”6

To comprehend how Mapúa and his peers endeavored to compose buildings with “Filipino character,” recognition of the historical context is vital. On one hand, with the DoA for the first time under Filipino control, there was, as Mapúa stated, “a strong desire for imposing, artistic and monumental buildings” (Figure 7).7 On the other hand, as DoA schemes were refashioned toward Filipino priorities, the reform that transpired reflected the enlarging Filipino sense of nationhood. While the preliminary architectural expressions of “Filipino character” may appear modest, they nevertheless contrasted with the “severe and undecorated architecture” implanted by the first American consulting architect to the Philippines, William E. Parsons (1872–1939).8 Consequently, the small cohort of Pensionados Program architects deliberately broke ground in articulating the sense of being “Filipino,” utilizing design to express native identity rather than the colonial identity previously imposed by American architects.

Figure 7

Juan Arellano and Tomás Mapúa, Manila Central Post Office, Manila, 1926–28, as it appeared before the ruinous fire of 21 May 2023 (photo by Ian Morley).

Figure 7

Juan Arellano and Tomás Mapúa, Manila Central Post Office, Manila, 1926–28, as it appeared before the ruinous fire of 21 May 2023 (photo by Ian Morley).

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This essay offers a rethink of how DoA architects approached the shifting power relations between the Americans and Filipinos after 1916. Taking over from Doane in 1918, Filipino designers modified existing architectural models they had learned in the United States to make them better suited to the local setting. From 1919 to 1929, DoA staff designed numerous monuments in addition to 67 buildings for provincial governments and 327 buildings for municipal councils.9 Such structures helped to shape a new imagination within the colonial narrative and also gave a new visual quality to the colonial cityscape.

By nationalizing public architectural projects with color, sculptured flora, figures dressed in native clothing, and so on, DoA personnel supplied a novel interpretation of the Philippine nation within the post-1916 mindset of impending self-rule. With native figures placed on pediments, reliefs, and bridge decorations in Manila—replacing the kinds of decorative elements that had previously been common, such as stone eagles symbolizing American imperial rule—the civic architectural setting unambiguously suggested to the Filipino public the political progress of their nation in pursuit of liberty and contentment (Figure 8).10

Figure 8

Antonio Toledo and Juan Arellano, Legislative Building (now the National Museum of Fine Arts), Manila, 1926, pediment showing native Filipino figures (photo by Ian Morley).

Figure 8

Antonio Toledo and Juan Arellano, Legislative Building (now the National Museum of Fine Arts), Manila, 1926, pediment showing native Filipino figures (photo by Ian Morley).

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Responding to Doane’s request for more artistic creativity, Filipino designers in the DoA endeavored to establish “a dignified and high standard policy of architecture in public buildings,” so as “to promote a healthy civic pride.”11 In seeking to compose artistically formed edifices, they no longer considered the sparsely adorned, standardized classicism applied earlier by American designers to be “legitimate architecture” for the Philippines.12

While Filipinos post-1918 broadly saw new buildings as enriching local built fabrics, this upgrading entailed more than just aesthetic treatment; it was a platform for cultural self-assertion.13 For instance, the application of color referenced native art, and so revealed how progressive-minded architects were tapping into “true Filipino culture” in order to establish “genuine architecture.”14 Yet, in truth, DoA staff drew upon both Western and native architectural precedents. Even though they presented new buildings as both “modern” and “nationalist,” given their education at different American institutions, variations in expressions of “modern” were evident in their approaches to design and style.15 Despite the heterogeneity, new civic structures were generalized as displaying, among other things, “ample and magnificent ornamentation.”16

To American eyes, the development of new Philippine architecture offered tangible proof of the expanding culture and capacity of Filipinos for future self-rule. However, it is imperative to recognize that Filipinos employed by the state were far from docile servants of American imperial hegemony. Indeed, among the most vocal proponents of Filipino nationalism were Pensionados Program participants.17 Yet, with regard to the development of the colonial-era cityscape, as previously shown, Filipinos working in the DoA from 1918 onward indelibly imprinted public architecture with a nativized character. Consequently, within the frame of Asian American and Pacific Islander American studies, it is necessary to rethink the sensibilities of Filipino architects, as well as how they utilized those sensibilities. After all, what this essay challenges is the supposition that buildings designed by the American colonial state’s Filipino employees were monolithically colonial. On the contrary, the work of the Pensionados Program participants demonstrates that advancements in architectural thinking included the endorsement of civic esteem and the growing Filipino sense of being. Further, as this essay underscores, the program’s participants were the first generation of Filipinos to design “modern Philippine architecture,” and they did so decades before the declaration of national independence in 1946.

Notes

1.

American colonization of the Philippine Islands began in 1898 and ended in 1946. The Pensionados Program was created by Act No. 854, passed on 26 August 1903.

2.

Mapúa studied architecture at Cornell University, Toledo was a graduate of Ohio State University, and Arellano was educated at the Drexel Institute and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. All three architects held supervisory posts during their employment by the Philippine Bureau of Public Works.

3.

For overviews of the relationship between American architectural education and the École de Beaux-Arts in Paris, see Anthony Alofsin, The Struggle for Modernism (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), 16–17; Gwendolyn Wright, “History for Architects,” in The History of History in American Schools of Architecture, 1865–1975, ed. Gwendolyn Wright and Janet Parks (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1990), 13–52.

4.

The Division of Architecture supervised the design of all architectural and urban planning schemes in the Philippines.

5.

The Philippine Autonomy Act was the first law passed by the U.S. Congress to promise Filipinos national independence in the future.

6.

Ralph H. Doane, “Architecture in the Philippines,” Quarterly Bulletin, Bureau of Public Works 7, no. 2 (1918), 2–8; Ralph H. Doane, “The Story of American Architecture in the Philippines, Part 1,” Architectural Review 8, no. 2 (1919), 25–32; Ralph H. Doane, “The Story of American Architecture in the Philippines, Part 2,” Architectural Review 8, no. 5 (1919), 115–22.

7.

Tomás Mapúa, “Division of Architecture—Report of Mr Mapua,” Quarterly Bulletin, Bureau of Public Works 7, no. 4 (1919), 20.

8.

Juan Arellano, “Division of Architecture—Report of Mr Arellano,” Quarterly Bulletin, Bureau of Public Works 7, no. 4 (1919), 16. Parsons was consulting architect from 1905 to 1914.

9.

Tomás Mapúa and Juan Arellano, “Division of Architecture,” Bureau of Public Works Bulletin 10, no. 1 (1921), 31.

10.

Ian Morley, American Colonisation and the City Beautiful: Filipinos and Planning in the Philippines, 1916–35 (London: Routledge, 2019), 128–29.

11.

Arellano, “Division of Architecture,” 16.

12.

Mapúa, “Division of Architecture,” 18.

13.

Morley, American Colonisation and the City Beautiful, 129.

14.

“Notes on Juan Arellano,” undated, 3, Folder 104, Holdings of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Manila.

15.

“Notes on Juan Arellano,” 3.

16.

Arellano, “Division of Architecture,” 16.

17.

Paul A. Kramer, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 273.

The official guidebook for the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair describes the Philippine Pavilion as follows:

Folklore, history and life in the islands today are featured in attractions that range from elaborate panels of carved wood to programs of traditional Filipino dances. The main building, surrounded by a moat and reached by three bridges, is in the shape of a salakot, the familiar wide-brimmed, peaked sun hat worn throughout the Philippines. The building is decorated with many rare woods brought from the islands.1

The description explicitly identifies the architectural form of the national pavilion as inspired by the cone-shaped salakot, a traditional farmer’s hat typically made of woven dried grass or palm fronds, but here constructed in aluminum (Figures 9 and 10). Located in the International Plaza, the two-story, 1,500-square-meter (16,147-square-foot) circular glass-and-steel pavilion was positioned adjacent to the Unisphere, the centerpiece of the exposition at Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York.2 In another instance, a section of the fair’s Official Souvenir Book titled “Exotic Dancers from the World’s Far Corners” includes photographs of dancers from the Bayanihan Company of the Philippines performing the Pandango sa Ilaw (Dance of Lights).3 The descriptions and portrayals of the Philippines in these guidebooks highlight the agricultural, cultural, historical, and tropical context in their attempts to celebrate Filipino identity. Rendering the Filipino contributions to the fair as exotic, these depictions were directed toward an American audience that was largely unfamiliar with the Philippines.

Figure 9

Otilio Arellano, Philippine Pavilion, New York World’s Fair, 1964 (postcard, Edson G. Cabalfin private collection).

Figure 9

Otilio Arellano, Philippine Pavilion, New York World’s Fair, 1964 (postcard, Edson G. Cabalfin private collection).

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Figure 10

Justiniano Asuncion, Indio de Iloco (Indian from Ilocos), 1840s–1850s, watercolor on paper, depicting a native Filipino from Ilocos wearing the salakot headgear and dried-grass raincoat worn over the shoulders (Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of New York, https://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15324coll12/id/10225/rec/1).

Figure 10

Justiniano Asuncion, Indio de Iloco (Indian from Ilocos), 1840s–1850s, watercolor on paper, depicting a native Filipino from Ilocos wearing the salakot headgear and dried-grass raincoat worn over the shoulders (Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of New York, https://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15324coll12/id/10225/rec/1).

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The national pavilions created for international expositions often serve as forms of architectural and exhibition shorthand. Built under the sponsorship of a national government, each of these pavilions constructs an official imagery of its country. While most studies of world’s fairs have focused on colonial-era expositions in Europe and the United States, only a few have examined the fairs of the post–World War II period.4 Even fewer have addressed postcolonial Asian representations at such expositions.5

The Philippine Pavilion at the 1964–65 World’s Fair is part of a longer history of the representation of the Philippines in international expositions, including in Madrid in 1887, Buffalo in 1901, St. Louis in 1904, and, after World War II, in Brussels in 1958, Osaka in 1970, and Seville in 1992.6 By studying Asian representations at expositions from a postcolonial perspective, scholars can shed light on changing perceptions and diplomatic relationships between countries, disrupt canonical interpretations, and recover stories still untold in architectural history.

Otilio Arellano (1916–81) had the enviable but challenging task of conjuring a postcolonial identity for the Philippines at the 1964–65 World’s Fair.7 Born into a prominent family of architects, Arellano was well known in the Philippines, and this status gave him the opportunity to design the pavilion in the United States. His father, Arcadio Arellano (1872–1972), was a maestro de obras (master of works), a title equivalent to architect during the latter part of the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines.8 The younger Arellano went on to renovate the Metropolitan Theater of Manila in 1978; the theater, which opened in 1931, was designed by his uncle, Juan Arellano.9

As a vehicle for commerce and tourism, the Philippine Pavilion housed exhibits that highlighted the history, culture, and industries found in the country. Mannequins in traditional costumes dotted the display floor, and photographs featuring scenes of agriculture, industry, and culture covered the walls. A yellow “jeepney,” representing Filipinos’ creative appropriation of surplus American Jeeps after World War II, was parked outside the first level.10

The temporary pavilion used materials that highlighted natural resources endemic to the Philippines. Narra (Pterocarpus indicus), also known as Philippine mahogany, was used extensively in the structure’s glue-laminated floor beams as well as its rafters, interior partitions, and other architectural elements.11 Displayed beneath the raised pavilion roof on the exterior were twelve acacia wood bas-relief mural panels hand-carved by the prominent Filipino artist Carlos “Botong” V. Francisco, depicting various events in Philippine history, both mythical and real (Figure 11).12 The building’s blending of industrial materials (such as aluminum and glass) with organic materials found in the Philippines (such as wood) may be interpreted as a physical expression of the country’s philosophy on industrialization—namely, that the nation could progress toward the future through industrialization without necessarily abandoning its agricultural past.

Figure 11

Carlos V. Francisco, bas-relief mural depicting the Philippine Revolution of 1896–98, with General Emilio Aguinaldo as the central figure, shown at the Philippine Pavilion, New York World’s Fair, 1964–65; carved acacia wood, 35 × 85 centimeters (144 × 216 inches) (panel gifted to Cornell University by the Philippine government after the fair; photo by Edson G. Cabalfin).

Figure 11

Carlos V. Francisco, bas-relief mural depicting the Philippine Revolution of 1896–98, with General Emilio Aguinaldo as the central figure, shown at the Philippine Pavilion, New York World’s Fair, 1964–65; carved acacia wood, 35 × 85 centimeters (144 × 216 inches) (panel gifted to Cornell University by the Philippine government after the fair; photo by Edson G. Cabalfin).

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The pavilion’s architecture falls under what political scientist Benedict Anderson calls the “logoization” of the nation, meaning its rendering as a recognizable logo or iconography.13 The pavilions created for international exhibitions need to be readily understandable and memorable to function as legible logos amid an established landscape of signifiers. Moreover, Anderson argues, forging an imagined political community requires rendering the nation in its “infinite reproducibility,” repeatedly perpetuated through various technologies, including print and photography.14

Arellano’s design task exemplified the core challenge of postcolonial subjectivity formation: How do you deal with your colonial past and contend with the postcolonial present and future? To answer this challenge, the architect chose to consciously veer away from forms that invoked the Spanish and American colonial past in the Philippines, instead embracing modernist representations. Indigenous cultures and natural materials were presented as neutral characteristics, exemplifying the willingness of the country to move beyond its colonial past while still celebrating its unique traits.

In the pavilion’s exhibitions, traditional crafts were used strategically to express the nation’s cultural heritage in ways that distinguished it from any other nation. In colonial-era expositions, Indigenous crafts typically occupied a position that marked them as inferior to European fine arts, following a racialized hierarchy in which non-Europeans were placed on the lower rungs of civilization.15 In postcolonial expositions, Philippine traditional crafts were presented differently, not necessarily as primitive and inferior but still as exotic. Raising these crafts out of tropes of the primitive at the 1964–65 World’s Fair involved deploying vernacular traditions as distinctive form-generating signs atop the presumptive universal aesthetic currency of late midcentury modernism.

Even up to the present day, postcolonial nations face the same issues whenever they participate in international events such as expositions, the Olympics, biennales, and trade fairs; that is, they continue to grapple with the question of what kind of imagery they should deploy to showcase themselves and their peoples adequately, without homogenizing and/or stereotyping their cultures. How can colonial legacies of representation be replaced with more empowering postcolonial narratives?

While Filipino architects attempted to showcase the Philippines in a modern manner through world’s fairs in the United States, what remains to be asked is whether their efforts were successful in supplanting the previous perceptions of the country as primitive and exotic. Perhaps by using the salakot and infusing it with modernist architectural language, Arellano was able to repudiate the colonial past of the Philippines without abandoning its cultural present as a sovereign nation. Though brief in its presence, the architecture of exposition pavilions has proved to be an enduring part of nation building for former colonizers as well as the formerly colonized.

Notes

1.

“Philippines,” in Official Guide: New York World’s Fair, 1964–1965 (New York: Time-Life Books, 1964), 164–65.

2.

“Philippine Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair 1964–1965,” Philippine Architecture and Building Journal 3, no. 2 (1963); “International Plaza a Symphony of Sights, Sounds, Smells, Taste,” New York Times, 10 May 1964, 73; The Philippine Pavilion: Groundbreaking at the New York World’s Fair 1964–1965, April 24, 1963 (New York: New York World’s Fair 1964–1965 Corporation, 1963), available at https://www.worldsfairphotos.com/nywf64/booklets/philippines-groundbreaking-4-24-63.pdf (accessed 12 Oct. 2023).

3.

Norton Wood, ed., Official Souvenir Book: New York World’s Fair 1964/1965 (New York: Time-Life Books, 1964), 34–35.

4.

Robert Rydell, All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984); Patricia A. Morton, Hybrid Modernities: Architecture and Representation at the 1931 Colonial Exposition, Paris (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000); Zeynep Çelik, Displaying the Orient: Architecture of Islam at Nineteenth-Century World’s Fairs (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Marieke Bloembergen, Colonial Spectacles: The Netherlands and the Dutch Indies at the World Exhibitions, 1880–1931, trans. Beverly Jackson (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2006).

5.

William Peterson, Asian Self-Representation at World’s Fairs (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020).

6.

Edson Cabalfin, “Nation as Spectacle: Identity Politics in the Architectures of Philippine Displays at International Expositions, 1887–1998” (PhD diss., Cornell University, 2012).

7.

“Philippine Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair”; The Philippine Pavilion.

8.

Gerard Lico, “Arcadio de Guzman Arellano (1872–1920),” Arkitekturang Filipino: A History of Architecture and the Built Environment in the Philippines (Quezon City: ARC Lico International Services and University of the Philippines–College of Architecture, 2021), 393–95.

9.

Margot Baterina, “An Impressive Building to Speak of the People’s Growing Cultural Consciousness,” Philippine Panorama, 3 Dec. 1978, 24–25; Cornelio Balmaceda, “World Fair in Asia,” in Souvenir Program of the Philippines International Fair, February 1st to April 20th, 1953, Manila (1953).

10.

“Philippine Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair.”

11.

“Philippine Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair”; “Plans of the Philippine Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair,” 1963, Department of Public Works and Highways Archives, Manila.

12.

“Preview of the Philippine Pavilion for the New York 1964 World’s Fair,” Philippine Institute of Architects Journal 1, no. 1 (1964).

13.

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 1991), 6, 181.

14.

Anderson, 181.

15.

Luis Ángel Sánchez Gómez, “Indigenous Art at the Philippine Exposition of 1887: Arguments for an Ideological and Racial Battle in a Colonial Context,” Journal of the History of Collections 14, no. 2 (2002), 283–94.

The obituary for Charles Correa (1930–2015) in the New York Times hails him as an “American trained” architect, who reached “deep into India’s past for inspiration in producing work that is notable for its imagination and breadth.”1 Of course, Correa’s design practice drew from “Indian” traditions, including the use of the mandala, a sacred geometric configuration associated with Buddhism. The visibility of mandalas in the architect’s designs questions the alignment of his legacy with an Indianness that can only be understood as heralding a mythic Hindu past. As it continues to be perpetuated today, such Brahmanical bias is supported in tandem between the homeland and the diaspora. In this essay, we focus on Correa’s Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations (PMI) building in New York (1985–92) to seek out the influence of the architect’s minority Goan origins on his design practice. In so doing, we aim to demonstrate how Correa’s regional influences represent a more complex sense of South Asianness, and thereby challenge monolithic notions of transnational Indian identity that are uncritically echoed in the lore associated with this community’s built heritage.

Correa’s native Goa was a former Portuguese colony (1510–1961) that was not a part of British India. Goans localized European and Christian aesthetics in their building forms, a legacy identifiable in Correa’s work. Take, for example, the PMI building’s red granite cladding, its warm hues a stark contrast to the monochrome New York skyline (Figure 12). Correa’s use of this red stone may suggest a parallel to the Mughal-era Red Fort, which stands in New Delhi, India’s capital, and which is the site of many national celebrations. In its crimson aspect, the PMI building then metonymically represents India in New York through the architect’s use of this historically and nationally significant color. However, the color of the stone is also reminiscent of the red laterite of Goa. In fact, this strikingly colored material is featured in Correa’s design of the state’s Kala Academy, a performance venue that suffered structural damage due to negligence in 2023. The shared aesthetic of unadorned red stone in the making of Kala Academy in Goa and the PMI building in New York speaks to the continuity of Correa’s color palette across projects and continents.

Figure 12

Charles Correa, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, New York, 1985–92 (copyright Charles Correa Associates; courtesy of Charles Correa Foundation).

Figure 12

Charles Correa, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, New York, 1985–92 (copyright Charles Correa Associates; courtesy of Charles Correa Foundation).

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Built a decade prior to the PMI building, Kala Academy (1973–83) is Correa’s tribute to his ancestral state, as evidenced by his use of the region’s indigenous red laterite in the iconic riverfront building (Figure 13). Correa’s employment and showcasing of the red laterite, a common construction material in Goa, in its uncovered form echoes the most famous Goan edifice to also bear this constitutive element. Built in the sixteenth century, Goa’s Basilica of Bom Jesus is emblematic of baroque architecture, the Indo-Portuguese variation of which finds expression in the local red stone (Figure 14).2

Figure 13

Charles Correa, Kala Academy, Goa, 1973–83 (photo by Vishvesh Prabhakar Kandolkar).

Figure 13

Charles Correa, Kala Academy, Goa, 1973–83 (photo by Vishvesh Prabhakar Kandolkar).

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Figure 14

Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa, 1594–1610 (photo by Vishvesh Prabhakar Kandolkar).

Figure 14

Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa, 1594–1610 (photo by Vishvesh Prabhakar Kandolkar).

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At the same time as Indo-Portuguese baroque domesticated and remade European styles of the era, it also incorporated vernacular aesthetics, some of which were Islamicate.3 Even as Correa often evoked Indian and even Hindu influences in his oeuvre, these were not the only South Asian design inspirations that shaped his practice. We argue that Correa’s legacy—as exhibited in the PMI building and other works—is representative of a South Asian aesthetic complicated by Indo-Portuguese, Islamicate, and other heritages that are often obscured when his work is described as merely being “Indian.” This is then also instructive for how other “Indian”-inspired architectural history in the United States should be examined.

Correa’s architecture is typically attributed to his education in the United States under Buckminster Fuller and the influence of Le Corbusier; the impact of his youth in Goa is frequently overlooked.4 In Goa, most houses built during the Portuguese period are characterized by unique sit-out spaces at their entrances, a feature locally known as the balcão. During his time in Goa, Correa would have experienced familial gatherings in these climatically adapted spaces, a regional inheritance that can be traced in his architectural expression.5 For example, large openings in the upper reaches of the PMI building are double-height balcony spaces for the use of residents. Mirroring the balcão, a tropical feature, this element seems out of place in the New York setting. Yet, when enclosed with glass, such spaces are useful even during North American winters, the balconies functioning as intermediate zones between the interior and exterior of the edifice.6 Conceptually extending the use of the Goan balcão, which traditionally fronts a single-family, low-rise dwelling, the PMI building’s balconies encourage sociality despite the weather, owing to their deliberate placement in a multifamily/multiuse high-rise.

Although it can delimit entry, the placement of the balcão at the front of Goan homes makes public the interactions of people of different castes; by no means a venue that encourages egalitarianism, it nevertheless becomes a site of social negotiation. Prior to the PMI building, Correa experimented with climate-responsive, veranda-like communal spaces in his conception of the 1983 Kanchanjunga Apartments, a Bombay high-rise. In bringing this design feature to the United States, Correa transferred an Indo-Portuguese-inflected, South Asian aesthetic to the New York skyline and, with it, a convivial space that potentially questions established caste and social hierarchies.

The PMI building’s surface aesthetics reveal how Correa blended modernist ideas with the aforementioned Goan features in his vision for the structure. According to Anne Anlin Cheng, modernists celebrated blank walls in architecture, where “the philosophic preoccupation with surface served as a cornerstone for a host of . . . innovations.”7 Correa’s early works, such as the Administrative Offices of Vallabh Vidyanagar University in Gujarat (1958–60), exemplify how he followed modernist ideals by using exposed concrete surfaces as a vocabulary for his architecture. Subsequently, he developed a keen interest in critical regionalism, an approach that emphasizes the connection between a building and its cultural, social, and geographical contexts. Despite his initial fascination with modernist surface aesthetics, Correa gradually incorporated regional influences into his designs, creating a unique style that blended global and local elements. As a result, his works, including Goa’s Kala Academy with its exposed indigenous stone, stand out as examples of critical regionalism, showcasing how architecture can be rooted in a specific place and time while still partaking of and participating in innovation.

Correa’s design philosophy can be traced between the various South Asian examples we cite above and the New York PMI building. Though Correa used red granite directly sourced from South India on the building to “proclaim with a flourish the presence of India in New York,” the exposed red stone may also proclaim the presence of Correa’s native Goa in a novel setting.8 Uncovering the invisible Goan influences in Correa’s oeuvre recharacterizes how his work should be viewed for its inclusion of diverse aesthetics. In turn, Correa’s legacy in the United States offers a transnational vantage point from which to rethink the relationship between built heritage and Indianness. Only one of them is fixed in stone.

Notes

1.

Nida Najar, “Charles Correa, 84, Is Dead; Architect Fused India’s History with Modernism,” New York Times, 22 June 2015, Arts, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/22/arts/design/charles-correa-architect-who-fused-indias-history-with-modernism-dies-at-84.html (accessed 27 Mar. 2023).

2.

Paulo Varela Gomes, Whitewash, Red Stone: A History of Church Architecture in Goa (New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2011).

3.

Varela Gomes, 6.

4.

Kenneth Frampton, “The Work of Charles Correa,” in Charles Correa (London: Thames and Hudson, 1996), 15.

5.

Frampton, 15.

6.

Frampton, 108.

7.

Anne Anlin Cheng, Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 10.

8.

Frampton, “Work of Charles Correa,” 14. See also “Project Report Permanent Mission of India United Nations, New York,” Correa Consultants Pvt. Ltd., Bombay, Mar. 1984, 11, Charles Correa Archives, http://www.charlescorreaarchives.org (accessed 17 Apr. 2023).

In late 1945, the U.S. federal War Relocation Authority moved dozens of ramshackle trailers to an unimproved lot in Burbank, California, a growing suburban community north of Los Angeles. This settlement, informally named the Winona trailer camp, was one of more than a dozen federal emergency housing projects set up by the WRA in West Coast cities to provide desperately needed housing for thousands of people of Japanese ancestry who had recently been released from incarceration camps (Figure 15).1

Figure 15

Winona trailer camp, Burbank, California, 1945 (photo by Tom Parker; 1945-11, War Relocation Authority photographs: Japanese-American evacuation and resettlement, BANC PIC 1967.014 v.AX1 K-479--PIC, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley).

Figure 15

Winona trailer camp, Burbank, California, 1945 (photo by Tom Parker; 1945-11, War Relocation Authority photographs: Japanese-American evacuation and resettlement, BANC PIC 1967.014 v.AX1 K-479--PIC, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley).

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These temporary camps established by the federal government after the war are just one example of a far larger housing crisis that followed the unjust incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans from 1942 to 1946. While architectural historians have previously addressed the physical landscapes of the incarceration camps, more attention needs to be paid to Japanese Americans’ postwar experiences as they attempted to secure housing in a discriminatory real estate market—a traumatic and disruptive process that kept an already oppressed group from fully benefiting from the booming economy of the West Coast after the war.2 The significance of this period is summed up by historian Greg Robinson: “The resettlement period was just as important [as wartime confinement], if not more so, in shaping the lives of Japanese Americans, and their communities, social activities, and jobs.”3 This brief essay takes up Robinson’s argument, focusing on the built landscape and the search for housing by individuals of Japanese ancestry in the Los Angeles and Bay Area regions between 1940 and 1970.

The resettlement period can be said to have begun as early as late 1942, when the federal government began to allow thousands of incarcerated Japanese Americans to leave the camps where they had been held and relocate to cities outside the West Coast “exclusion zone” if they secured employment or gained admission to colleges or universities. Nearly 35,000 individuals participated in this program during the war and moved to cities such as Chicago, Dayton, Minneapolis, and St. Paul in the Midwest; New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh in the Northeast; and Denver in the Mountain West.4

However, most of the Japanese Americans who participated in this relocation program moved back to the West Coast soon after the war—joining the men, women, and children who went there directly from the camps upon their release. Multiple factors made it extremely difficult for returning Japanese Americans to find adequate housing, including racial covenants that favored whites, laws that restricted land- and homeownership by Japanese Americans, and persistent animosity toward a group of people who were said to resemble the former enemy. In addition, incarcerees had suffered vast economic losses when they were forced to abandon real and commercial property quickly in 1942 during the incarceration process; when they returned to the West Coast, they had little capital to spend in the housing market. Even those Japanese Americans who served in the military during the war and could take advantage of home and business loans available to veterans were impeded from participating in the housing market by the discriminatory practices of private developers. Racism against Japanese Americans severely limited job opportunities, as many incarcerees were kept out of white-collar or professional jobs and instead were channeled into jobs as gardeners, domestic workers, or factory employees (Figure 16).5 In sum, those attempting to resettle in the West were at a systemic disadvantage as they searched for decent housing and work after the war.

Figure 16

Housing unit on South Sawtelle Boulevard, West Los Angeles, rented to returning Japanese Americans, 1945; standing in front of the unit are (from left to right) Toshiye Ishioka, Toshio Ishioka, and Kasuko Ikebuchi (War Relocation Authority photographs: Japanese-American evacuation and resettlement, BANC PIC 1967.014 v. 47:EH790--PIC, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley).

Figure 16

Housing unit on South Sawtelle Boulevard, West Los Angeles, rented to returning Japanese Americans, 1945; standing in front of the unit are (from left to right) Toshiye Ishioka, Toshio Ishioka, and Kasuko Ikebuchi (War Relocation Authority photographs: Japanese-American evacuation and resettlement, BANC PIC 1967.014 v. 47:EH790--PIC, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley).

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Many Japanese Americans, notably elderly Issei (first-generation) immigrants, were compelled to seek shelter at emergency facilities such as the aforementioned Burbank trailer camp or one of at least fifteen other housing settlements established by the WRA and local housing agencies that provided homes for more than 7,000 Japanese Americans after the war.6

Japanese Americans who managed to find apartments and houses on the private market in the early resettlement years often found themselves in substandard accommodations, with some families resorting to living in tents, garages, barns, or backyard shacks. Many Japanese Americans moved frequently in the immediate postwar years to take advantage of any improved housing situation, a process that dramatically disrupted the school and work lives of resettlers.7

Only in the mid- and late 1950s did Japanese Americans begin to achieve some degree of housing stability as they moved to suburban neighborhoods, notably the Crenshaw, Gardena, and Montebello neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area and the Richmond and Sunset districts in San Francisco. This residential shift was made possible by the slow eradication of discriminatory land laws, as well as improving job opportunities for Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans), especially those who had completed college before the war. This suburbanization could not have been achieved, however, without the support of Japanese American community organizations, notably Buddhist and Christian religious organizations and the Japanese American Citizens League, as well as Japanese American real estate firms—notably, in Los Angeles, Takai Realty and Kashu Realty.8 A 1973 article in the radical Japanese American journal Gidra sums up this suburbanization process:

In the late nineteen fifties, “the move” began. Hundreds of Japanese American families from the depths of East L.A. and the flatlands of the westside began pouring into Gardena. Huge tracts of homes began filling with Asians who were climbing into the middle class of American society. Gardena represented their most immediate dreams and aspirations. Gardena meant a new home, a new chance, better schools and all the benefits of suburbia. The Japanese became the model minority within this setting. They were among those who had “made it.”9

Japanese American architects whose training moved beyond the Beaux-Arts-era approach—especially those who were educated at the University of Southern California during the interwar years—began to adopt a modern architectural aesthetic for the design of some of the new businesses, homes, and community centers they built in these suburban locations. For example, the USC-trained architect Kazumi Adachi designed several modern houses and headquarters for organizations that served the Japanese American community, notably his 1956 Japanese Children’s Home (Shonien) of Southern California, in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake (Figure 17).

Figure 17

Announcement and invitation to the 1956 dedication ceremony of the Japanese Children’s Home (Shonien) of Southern California, Los Angeles, designed by Kazumi Adachi (Edward Ross Roybal Papers, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles).

Figure 17

Announcement and invitation to the 1956 dedication ceremony of the Japanese Children’s Home (Shonien) of Southern California, Los Angeles, designed by Kazumi Adachi (Edward Ross Roybal Papers, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles).

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In the late 1950s and early 1960s, national magazines began to publish articles about the appearance of middle-class Nisei families in what once had been all-white suburbs. In these articles, the single-family house became a particularly prominent symbol of the assimilation of Japanese Americans on the West Coast. In December 1971, the Pacific Citizen newspaper, published in Los Angeles by the Japanese American Citizens League, featured an unabridged version of an article about Gardena that had appeared in the 21 June 1971 issue of Newsweek. The full article, by Newsweek staff writer Paul Brinkley-Rogers, offers an example of how mainstream journalists interpreted the suburban landscape. Noting Gardena’s “rows and rows of small ranch-style houses,” the author goes on to say: “There is little to distinguish a white home from a Japanese American home. . . . A Japanese American home may have a traditional stone lantern out in front or some meticulously-attended sub-miniature tree, but by and large white and yellow middle class co-exist almost as if color itself did not exist.”10

This description, like those of many other journalists of the time, reveals how the dominant white culture saw suburban domestic architecture as a symbol of assimilation and adoption of alleged hegemonic norms. This interpretation would be challenged by Japanese American scholars associated with the Asian American movement on college campuses in the late 1960s and the 1970s, who provided a more complex interpretation of the migration to suburbia.11 This next generation of authors and activists pointed out that the narrative of assimilation in Gardena and other postwar suburbs was incomplete, as it failed to address the experiences of all Japanese Americans in the late twentieth century. Their efforts as well as the work of contemporary scholars help us to understand that the obstacles Japanese Americans faced in the postwar resettlement era were in fact just one chapter in a much longer history of housing discrimination that many individuals of Japanese ancestry had encountered since they began arriving in the United States in the mid- to late nineteenth century. In sum, for multiple decades, these obstructions prevented Japanese Americans from equitably participating in the quest for decent, long-term housing in the United States and thus hindered their opportunities to build generational wealth through homeownership.

Notes

1.

Bradford Pearson, “For Japanese-Americans, Housing Injustices Outlived Internment,” New York Times, 20 Aug. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/20/magazine/japanese-internment-end-wwii-trailer-parks.html (accessed 28 Aug. 2023).

2.

Carol Lynne Horiuchi, “Dislocations and Relocations: The Built Environments of Japanese American Internment” (PhD diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2005).

3.

Greg Robinson, foreword to Making Home from War: Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement, ed. Brian Komei Dempster (Berkeley, Calif.: Heyday, 2011), xii.

4.

This dispersal and assimilation process is described in Allan Austin, “Eastward Pioneers: Japanese American Resettlement during World War II and the Contested Meaning of Exile and Incarceration,” Journal of American Ethnic History 26, no. 2 (Winter 2007), 58–84. Photographs of many who experienced resettlement can be found in Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, Kenichiro Shimada, and Hikaru Iwasaki, Japanese American Resettlement through the Lens: Hikaru Carl Iwasaki and the WRA’s Photographic Section, 1943–1945 (Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2009).

5.

Charlotte Brooks, Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 194–236.

6.

Brian Niiya, “Hostels,” Densho Encyclopedia, last updated 6 July 2020, https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Hostels (accessed 12 Oct. 2023).

7.

Nanka Nikkei Voices: Resettlement Years 1945–1955 (Torrance, Calif.: Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California, 1998); Megan Asaka, “Resettlement,” Densho Encyclopedia, last updated 8 Oct. 2020, https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Resettlement (accessed 12 Oct. 2023).

8.

Hillary Jenks, “Seasoned Long Enough in Concentration: Suburbanization and Transnational Citizenship in Southern California’s South Bay,” Journal of Urban History 40, no. 1 (2014), 6–30.

9.

Steve Tatsukawa, “Gardena, Part 1: A Saga of Youth, Drugs and Middle Class Misery,” Gidra 5, no. 7 (July 1973), 6–7.

10.

Paul Brinkley-Rogers, “Outwhiting the Whites” (unabridged version), Pacific Citizen, 22–29 Dec. 1972, A1, D1–9. Brinkley-Rogers provided the Pacific Citizen with this version of his article, which ran in edited form in Newsweek on 31 June 1971 under the title “Success Story: Outwhiting the Whites.” The Newsweek version did not include the passage quoted here.

11.

See “Inventing the ‘Model Minority’: A Critical Timeline and Reading List,” Densho Encyclopedia, 15 Dec. 2021, https://densho.org/catalyst/inventing-the-model-minority-a-critical-timeline-and-reading-list (accessed 12 Oct. 2023).

In 1979, the Washington Post pronounced a Korean “corner store revolution”; by the turn of the twentieth century, Korean Americans owned 70 percent of New York City’s small groceries and a developer bringing a Korean-owned market to Connecticut would proclaim, “Every neighborhood needs one.”1 However, the Korean corner store became more than a pervasive typology when, in 1990, political scientist Claire Jean Kim used the boycott of Family Red Apple Market in Flatbush, Brooklyn, to illustrate her theory of racial triangulation.2 In a diagram central to the history of Asian American studies, Kim proposed that white supremacy simultaneously valorizes and civically excludes Asian Americans in relation to Black Americans in order to maintain power. For three decades, scholars have sought to rethink this theory by pushing at its fixedness, questioning its assumptions, and testing its limits, but reevaluating such a conceptual structure requires a return to the physical structures where Kim’s analysis began.3 Spatial analysis of the Korean corner store—an umbrella term that encompasses many small businesses, with a nod to their figurative location at the intersection of power and identity—reveals how racialization operates through not static but rather ever-shifting forms of architecture.

Before the Flatbush boycott filled the front pages of New York’s papers, a Korean corner store on the city’s Upper East Side made its own headlines, revealing how the Korean corner store became a critical site of racialization in the popular imagination. The story began in 1984, when, amid renovations to open a deli at 821 Park Avenue, Kyu-Sung and Sung-Bok Choi found 750 flyers calling for their store’s removal. The neighborhood campaign claimed the store would bring unwanted crowds, attract rats, and clash with the area’s character. In response, the Department of Buildings stopped construction, the Landmarks Preservation Commission scrutinized the renovation against historic district standards, the community board issued a complaint, Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein voiced concern, and State Assemblyman Mark Siegel threatened legislation.4

The anxiety of assimilation was at the center of the conflict. The storefront of 821 Park Avenue, an 1891 five-story walk-up decorated with cheap pressed-tin ornaments, previously held a German immigrant-owned grocer for nearly its entire existence, an anomaly on a luxe avenue zoned residential in 1961.5 Neglecting this history, the New York Times claimed Kyu-Sung Choi misunderstood the neighborhood because he had “not been in this country long,” while deli opposition leader Shirley Bernstein responded to accusations of racism with the following retort to Choi: “Your being Korean has nothing to do with this. I am not prejudiced. I employ Chinese people.”6 Such papers overlooked the relatively recent assimilation of Bernstein and her Eastern European Jewish neighbors; as Dianne Harris has argued, postwar homeownership taught Jews “the ways of whiteness.”7 If so, the corner store taught the Chois that racial integration and retention of Korean identity were incompatible and that Jewish inclusion in whiteness was provisional. At a time when some Park Avenue cooperatives still excluded Jewish buyers, inclusion was contingent on protecting such property from newcomers.8

Instead of inclusion, the deli found tolerance in aesthetic assimilation. The Chois replaced a modern glass door with a wooden door despite its less-than-ideal functionality for a retail establishment. A sign reading “Park 75 Gourmet Foods,” executed in the elegant cursive of neighboring sidewalk canopies, hung above the door (Figure 18). Building on their sanctioned purview over the deli’s exterior, the neighbors forbade the placement of produce outside the store and suggested luxury items for the display windows. At the time, critics understood this as overreach of regulations; in hindsight, the restrictions demonstrate their inherent bias toward the protection of white property.9

Figure 18

Sung-Bok and Kyu-Sung Choi in front of Park 75 Gourmet Foods, New York, 1985, one year after the campaign that sought to keep the store from opening (Chester Higgins Jr. for the New York Times, 20 Feb. 1985).

Figure 18

Sung-Bok and Kyu-Sung Choi in front of Park 75 Gourmet Foods, New York, 1985, one year after the campaign that sought to keep the store from opening (Chester Higgins Jr. for the New York Times, 20 Feb. 1985).

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When the Chois’ identity resurfaced, it came packaged in vague multiculturalism and idealizations of grueling, hidden labor. At the deli’s opening, the city comptroller asked what the city was “if not a place of opportunity where law-abiding, hard-working people can come and make a life for themselves.”10 Granted, the deli’s neighbors would not have to see such hardworking people, as the store quickly adopted the neighborhood’s system of phone orders and deliveries that kept retail work hidden from view.11 Customers would only learn of the Chois’ weeklong, eighteen-hour days two years later, through a profile written by the president of the Asia Society as part of an article on Asian Americans’ work ethic.12 This association of the Korean corner store with hard work and multiculturalism would accompany the small business type as it emerged in other neighborhoods.

Thus, when the Flatbush Coalition for Economic Empowerment boycotted Family Red Apple Market in 1990 for exploiting its low-income West Indian clientele and assaulting a shopper, the media and political responses were primed. Newspapers wrote stories of hardworking shopkeepers besieged by their customers, and politicians characterized the boycott as counter to the city’s multicultural identity.13 Yet in contrast to the building regulations that Bernstein and her neighbors used to wield architectural influence, the picket lines that spatialized the Flatbush Coalition’s criticism operated without state support. In fact, the city’s architectural response would shift to intervene against them. While the Buildings Department had protected white-owned property from a Korean grocer, the Police Department buffered a Korean grocer from Black speech by erecting barricades and removing protesters (Figure 19).14 Even if the Korean corner store had never found full inclusion, the city would still use it to keep Black New Yorkers disenfranchised.

Figure 19

Police officers guard Family Red Apple Market’s produce stands from protesters, New York, 1990 (Dith Pran for the New York Times, 23 Sept. 1990).

Figure 19

Police officers guard Family Red Apple Market’s produce stands from protesters, New York, 1990 (Dith Pran for the New York Times, 23 Sept. 1990).

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The shift in spatial enforcement that occurred within the same city underscores how the Korean corner store occupies a critical juncture in processes of racialization. Further cases could map how this role continues to evolve as it intersects with new axes of power. When Los Angeles liquor store owner Soon Ja Du shot Latasha Harlins in 1992, gender went center stage.15 More recently, attention to nail salon labor has revealed how depressed price expectations encourage exploitation of immigration status.16 The network that emerges from further cases may have many nodes and ill-defined limits, but it will provide a more comprehensive road map of the complex inner workings of the American racial order.

Notes

1.

LaBarbara Bowman, “The Koreans: Corner Store Revolution,” Washington Post, 28 May 1979; Sam Dolnick, “A New York Staple, Korean Grocers Are Dwindling,” New York Times, 2 June 2011, sec. New York; Joseph Straw, “It’s Now Easier to Go to Gourmet Heaven,” New Haven Register, 29 Apr. 2002.

2.

Claire Jean Kim, Bitter Fruit: The Politics of Black-Korean Conflict in New York City, rev. ed. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), 17.

3.

Kim herself has recently revisited the subject. See Claire Jean Kim, Asian Americans in an Anti-Black World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023), 7. See also Sonya G. Chen and Christian Hosam, “Claire Jean Kim’s Racial Triangulation at 20: Rethinking Black-Asian Solidarity and Political Science,” Politics, Groups, and Identities 10, no. 3 (2022), 455.

4.

William Geist, “Park Ave. Residents Want a New Deli to Go,” New York Times, 28 Feb. 1984, sec. A, 1.

5.

Christopher Gray, “Streetscapes/101 East 75th Street,” New York Times, 9 Nov. 1997, sec. 11, 5.

6.

Geist, “Park Ave. Residents Want a New Deli to Go,” 1.

7.

Dianne Harris, Little White Houses: How the Postwar Home Constructed Race in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 18, quoting Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says about Race in America (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998), 24.

8.

James Trager, Park Avenue: Street of Dreams (New York: Atheneum, 1990), 265.

9.

Kenneth Gross, “Tangling with City Red Tape,” Newsday, 8 Apr. 1984, 6.

10.

Robert McFadden, “Prospects Brighten for Park Ave. Deli as Resistance Ebbs,” New York Times, 5 Mar. 1984, sec. A, 1.

11.

Georgia Dullea, “Upper East Side: Spheres of Influence,” New York Times, 20 Nov. 1988, sec. 6, 47.

12.

Robert Oxnam, “Why Asians Succeed Here,” New York Times Magazine, 30 Nov. 1986, 88.

13.

“Shop at Red Apple, Dave,” New York Daily News, 14 Sept. 1990, 41.

14.

Janet Wilson, “Fruit Man’s Out of Pits,” New York Daily News, 23 Sept. 1990, 12.

15.

Brenda Stevenson, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), xix.

16.

Miliann Kang, The Managed Hand: Race, Gender, and the Body in Beauty Service Work (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 240.