HomeAsian AmericansNew WashU project explores St. Louis's Asian American history

New WashU project explores St. Louis’s Asian American history

A group of Washington University researchers is currently working on a new project to help preserve and document Asian American stories in St. Louis, Missouri.

The new interactive project, Asia in St. Louis, is a StoryMaps project that will combine primary sources, interactive maps, images, videos, narratives, and interviews to showcase the lives of Asians in 20th century St. Louis. It chronicles the history of Asian Americans in the city, from 1857, when the first recorded Chinese immigrant arrived in the city, till today.

According to a statement by Washington University Libraries, “The project will lead to a follow-up virtual workshop for the public to discuss the interconnected histories of the United States and Asia.”

In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, David Romney, a librarian at Wash U’s East Asian Library, said that St. Louis residents and visitors should be more interested in the history of East Asians in the city.

“These essays are kind of like a gateway to greater understanding and appreciation for really the rich cultural fabric that we have here in St. Louis,” Romney said.

The primary sources that Asia in St. Louis will draw from will be four local special collections, archives, and historical societies. Those include Missouri Historical Society, the State Historical Society of Missouri-Saint Louis and the National Archives in Kansas City. Asia in St. Louis will also be constructed around different themes; the historical traces of Asian Americans in St. Louis, case studies of early Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans, and the civil rights movement.

Some moments from history that will be featured include the experiences of the Chinese American diaspora in downtown Hop Alley, also known as St. Louis’s Chinatown which was demolished in the 1960s; Sam Wah Laundry, the last Chinese-owned hand laundry; and the arrival of incarcerated Japanese Americans during WWII.

The project also pays respects to Gyo Obata and Richard Henmi, two second-generation Japanese American architects who massively contributed to the development of St. Louis’s infrastructure. Both of their families were forced to flee from California, and were forced to live in incarceration camps during WWII. Henmi helped build affordable housing projects in the St. Louis area and several high-profile hotels. Obata was able to relocate to St. Louis from the camps to study architecture at Washington University, and later helped design the James S. McDonnell Planetarium at the St. Louis Science Center

Joan Wang, the East Asian and Chinese studies librarian, was awarded a $10,000 grant from Missouri Humanities back in March. “I think this digital project is more likely to tell the public in St. Louis about the diverse community,”, said Wang in an interview with KSDK.

She was inspired to create Asia in St. Louis by a 2022 history course she helped teach, and hopes the project inspires the next generation of Asian Americans in St. Louis to connect more people to the community.

“We look at the local past history, and we think, ‘How can we have today’s diverse community?”, said Wang to St. Louis Public Radio. “We wouldn’t have immigration or citizenship applications, or equal opportunity for residents, employment and legal affairs [without] the people who paved the way for us.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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