The Oklahoma History Center is one of a handful of museums across the nation that received a grant from the Smithsonian Institution to educate middle school students about Asian-American history.
The $2,500 grant helped start an oral history program titled “Young Historians, Living Histories” that will allow history center staff to teach students how to reach out to Asian-Americans, interview them on camera and submit the video to the Smithsonian website.
“Asian-Americans are the fastest growing minority group in the country, so it's important for us to know about their history,” said Leah Craig, curator of education at the history center.
The program kicked off on Oct. 8 with about 20 students from Norman's Washington Irving Middle School listening to Craig talk about Asian-American history.
Topics ranged from a lecture about Wong Kim Ark who, at 21, played a key role in the Supreme Court's 1898 decision that anyone born in the United States should be deemed a U.S. citizen, to President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, which authorized internment camps and the removal of any person seeming to be a threat to U.S. security. The executive order came in 1942 after the Japanese military struck Pearl Harbor.
Craig said no Japanese-Americans were found guilty of espionage and, despite the segregation, 14,000 Japanese-Americans served in the military during World War II.
Asians settled in Oklahoma as early as 1889 during the land run, as evidenced by a photo that captured Chinese-American Tom Sing and his laundry business in Oklahoma City's Chinatown. The small population of Asian-Americans in Oklahoma doubled during the 1920s oil boom.
Today, Oklahoma is home to more than 3 million Asian-Americans, according to the Census Bureau. Craig encouraged the students, who represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds, to create videos about any topic relating to Asian-American history.
“I want to know what brought them to the United States during the land run,” 12-year-old Sam Wishon said. “I was thinking about how they must have felt coming here and looking for a better life for themselves and for their children. Here their children could go to college or get jobs.”
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