asian History and the national parks

Asians have an incredibly dense history with the National Parks System.  From the creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site to the Jun Fujita Cabin at Voyageurs National Park, there are a number of sites that recognize Asian contributions to the national parks.

Scroll to read Asian history and the national parks, current stories in the National Parks, and find organizations that are advancing Asian inclusion outdoors.

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asian stories in the park

Asian Americans only represent only about 2.3% of the National Park Service staff despite representing 5.9% percent of the nation's population.

African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and other non-white visitors are similarly underrepresented.

Whites represent 79 % of full-time permanent employees at the National Park Service, and 62% of all employees are male.

We aim to change that.

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Asian American and Pacific Islander History

"We are all a part of one another." - Yuri Kochiyama Immigration hearing at Angel Island, 1923 Immigration hearing at Angel Island, 1923 National Archives and Records Administration The history of North America is shaped by the stories of immigrants from Asia and the Pacific and the native people of the Pacific Islands. While some of the earliest Asian immigrants arrived from China, Japan, India, and Korea, immigration reforms tied to U.S. civil rights legislation brought even more groups to the United States—such as Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Indonesians, the Hmong and other peoples from South and Central Asia. Discover these wide-ranging stories preserved and interpreted in our nation’s parks, trails, and historic sites.

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Interpreting the Contributions of Chinese Immigrants in Yosemite National Park's History

Immersed in the American West during the early 19th century, artist George Catlin made it his goal to capture idyllic scenes of nature, often featuring the frontier’s many Native American inhabitants. Catlin was concerned about the destruction white settlers would bring as they moved west from the urbanized East Coast, reshaping the landscape for agricultural and industrial uses, and he wanted to document scenes of indigenous life before it was forever altered. His artwork captures vibrant green vistas filled with Native Americans playing games, dancing, and performing religious rituals, or hunters chasing buffalo and taming wild horses.

READ STUDY HERE

Extend the Experience: Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Civil War

Asians and Pacific Islanders fought for both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. Understanding their experiences and perspectives is essential to understanding the full scope of a conflict that defined the country, and changed the world, for decades to come. From the Chinese laborers forced into indentured servitude fighting for freedom in the west, to the forgotten warriors in the war’s epic battles in the east, the voices of Asians and Pacific Islanders during this tumultuous time provide a full picture of America during the Civil War. 

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How a Chinese cook helped establish Yosemite and the National Park Service

“Hundreds of Chinese go to Yosemite. ... Imagine what the experience would be for them if they knew that Chinese worked on these roads over a hundred years ago.”

For one breakfast in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the summer of 1915, there was “fresh fruit, cereal, steak, potatoes, hot cakes and maple syrup, sausage, eggs, hot rolls and coffee,” Horace Albright, a member of the party, wrote in his book detailing the expedition. And for one dinner, there was “soup, trout, chops, fried potatoes, string beans, fresh bread, hot apple pie, cheese and coffee,” according to the writer Robert Sterling Yard.

The meals were prepared by Tie Sing, a backcountry cook working for the United States Geological Survey. In 1915, Stephen Mather, a special assistant to the secretary of the interior, hired Sing to cook for a two-week wilderness expedition intended to convince business and cultural leaders of the importance of a national park system.

READ HIS STORY HERE

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage sites

As the nation’s storyteller, the National Park Service strives to tell the stories of ordinary and extraordinary Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders preserved in our nation’s parks, memorials, and historic sites.

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Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a rich heritage thousands of years old and have both shaped the history of the United States and had their lives dramatically influenced by moments in its history. Every May during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and throughout the year, the National Park Service and our partners share those histories and the continuing culture thriving in parks and communities today.

Inspired by something you've learned or found a bit of family history in a national park? Share your experiences on social media using #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque.

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Interpreting the Asian-American Experience in Parks

The history of Asians in the U.S. reaches back to the early 1800s, long before the American Civil War. Asian peoples have made substantial contributions to the development of the U.S. throughout our history. From the Filipinos who were settling in the New Orleans area since at least the 1800s; to the Asian-Americans who served in the U.S. armed forces since the War of 1812; to the Chinese who comprised most of the labor force for the Central Pacific Railroad’s portion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s – Asians played a large role in shaping the story of this country.

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Why America’s national parks are so white

“Why are our parks so white?” columnist Glenn Nelson asked in a recent op-ed in The New York Times. Nelson, who runs Trail Posse, an online platform that promotes diversity in the outdoors, explains that people of color are only about half as likely to visit national parks as whites. He offers two reasons for this disparity: People of color are less familiar with parks and therefore hesitant to go, and there is a lack of racial diversity among the nation’s park employees.

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Pushing for Greater Inclusion of Asian American and Pacific Islander History Through the National Park Service

A Mandan-Hidatsa Indian, Gerard Baker grew up on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. His youth was spent breaking horses, running cows, and doing chores on his family's ranch. At night, he and his family would listen to stories told by tribal elders—stories of warfare, great hunts, tricksters, and survival. From these stories, he learned about his people and about who he was and who he wanted to be.

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Our Initiative

Our initiative is to diversify our national parks by using a three layered approach:

Awareness - get people to stop and realize there is a problem here
Education - give them exposure to first hand experiences 
Action - take action by donating, volunteering, or spreading awareness

We're focused on connecting to more diverse audiences and creating content with this audience in mind. Join Our Facebook Group below to join the discussion, share information, and connect with like-minded individuals. 

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Organizations advancing asian inclusion outdoors

As an outdoor enthusiast, you may be wondering what you can to do support diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors. The recent prominence of the Black Lives Matter Movement has brought issues of inequality and racism in the outdoors to the forefront and has made us question what we can do to be better allies and help drive change.

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