Stories across Generations: Burmese Americans in King County
Partnering with the Burmese American refugee community, The Wing will make local Burmese heritage stories publicly available through oral history gathering, digitized artifacts, and other resources.
The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (The Wing) will present “Stories across Generations: Burmese Americans in King County.” The project will bring to light untold and little-known histories of the Burmese American refugee community through conducting research; holding oral history trainings and gathering oral histories; and hosting a one-day digitization event for artifacts, photos and archival materials (summer/fall 2017). The project then culminates with a public presentation, pop-up display and onlineresource to share the stories and further connect youth, families, and their community with the broader public (winter/spring 2018).
Research will be done by staff and a project intern in local and regional archives, including the Burke Museum which holds Burmese community materials from the 1970s. Two oral history trainings will be held for Burmese American youth and families. Participants will be trained to conduct oral histories (mostly audio with select video) with their parents and families. Interviewers, interviewees and others will then record their stories and bring in their materials for one digitization event. One training will take place in Kent; the other training and digitization event will occur in Tukwila.
Heritage materials held by Burmese American families and organizations reflect the refugee’s journey from home country to refugee camp, and finally to King County. For example, a 1976 photograph shows Simon Khin with his family in Rangoon, Burma, right before being sponsored to come to the U.S. in October 1977. We are excited and eager to uncover the wealth of materials to be shared.
Personal stories as shown in the photo take on incredible significance when framed within historical topics for the project, including: civil unrest and military-run government in Burma; 1980 Refugee Act that allowed the U.S. President to set yearly ceilings on refugee admissions and the establishment the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement; and the impact of attacks of September 11th on refugee admissions. With present-day issues related to refugees and national policies towards resettlement worldwide, exploration of these historical topics rooted in the personal experience of King County residents is extremely timely and relevant.
The project culminates in a public presentation, pop-up display and online resources. The public presentation (location tbd, most likely Kent or Tukwila) provides an opportunity to share the stories with participants, community members and the broader public. The pop- up display will be made of 4-5 portable panels with information about Burmese American heritage in King County that can be used at future Burmese community gatherings, such as New Year celebrations and youth soccer events. The online resource (hosted by The Wing) will present context about Burmese American heritage in King County as well as provide access to oral histories and digitized items.
This project emerges from connections made during our 2010 exhibit, “A Refugee’s Journey of Survival and Hope,” which explored the experience of refugees from Asia resettling in the U.S. We are working with the group “Northwest Communities of Burma”, and basing our activities on direct requests by Burmese American community leaders, who form the project’s Community Advisory Committee. The Committee advises on all aspects of the project as well as recruiting community participants.
Washington State is one of the top 10 states accepting refugees for resettlement, receiving 48,573 refugees between 1983 and 2004. From 2002-2011, Burmese made up the largest refugee group resettling in the U.S. Currently approximately 2,000 Burmese American refugees have been resettled in Washington, with the King County population centered around Kent and Tukwila. The Burmese population in our area is constantly fluctuating, due to ongoing resettlement and secondary migration and is incredibly diverse with over 130 ethnic groups, including Karenni, Karen, Chin, Kachin, Muslim, Burman and Chinese Burmese. The Burmese American community is fragmented, and members desire opportunities to strengthen ties across ethnic groups. Moreover, with the recent rise in anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric, the community’s need to educate the public about their experiences in King County is very real, urgent and pressing. In addition, King County residents have little or no knowledge about this community, making the need for resources detailing the heritage of Burmese refugees more significant.
“Stories across Generations” will allow the region’s Burmese American community to gather, record and share its history. Through family stories and heritage materials that span the journey from home to refugee camp to newly-adopted home in King County, the project will help foster communication and healing within the Burmese community as well as connect the public to the stories of this recent refugee group and raise awareness and understanding of the Burmese refugee community.
Sharing and affirming lived Burmese history – across generations as well as within the community – would be transformational for the Burmese American community and an opportunity to present their culture, history and stories to King County residents. Many Burmese refugees arrived with few belongings, and the opportunity for Burmese American community members to gather, digitize and preserve their oral histories and records of resettlement and growth would be of tremendous benefit. There has never been an opportunity for the community to document and share its history, and much history from the 1980s and 1990s is fading in memory. Local Burmese American youth have never come together to gather their family and cultural history and explore their identities as Burmese Americans. Burmese American youth will understand their history and have greater pride in their cultural heritage and identity; Burmese American parents will understand their experience in the context of history and have greater connection with one another and younger generations as they share stories; diverse groups within the Burmese American community will have an opportunity to reflect on similarities and differences between their experiences; and all will understand that the Burmese American story is an important part of the history of King County and preserving heritage materials helps preserve their stories.
The public presentation provides an opportunity for participants to gather, share and celebrate their accomplishments made through this project. The pop-up display provides the community a lasting resource to showcase its heritage – whether at annual new year celebrations, summer youth soccer tournaments, or church gatherings. Online resources will further serve King County residents by making the oral histories, digitized items and research on Burmese American heritage broadly available. Excitedly, we also have the opportunity to integrate this project onto The Wing’s forthcoming dedicated page on the national “Your Story, Our Story” website headed by the Lower Eastside Tenement Museum, sharing the project and King County heritage more broadly. All oral histories and digitized materials will be preserved through our Governor Gary Locke Library and Community Heritage Center. Oral history and digitization participants will receive copies of their own materials. Project materials will then be available for free to the public at the Library and through the Museum’s onsite and online collection (http://db.wingluke.org/). We maintain over 25,000 educational resources and materials including books, periodicals, oral and video histories, photographs, historic documents and other artifacts related to the local history, culture and art of Asian Pacific Americans. “Stories across Generations” helps to strengthen our collection by adding more refugee stories as well as materials from the diverse Burmese American community.
Relevant Expertise / Experience / Accomplishments
The Wing is the only pan-Asian Pacific American museum in the nation, recognized for this unique role by designation as an Affiliated Area of the National Park Service and as one of the first affiliates of the Smithsonian Institution in the Pacific Northwest. The Wing’s exhibitions and programs are developed through our nationally recognized Community Advisory Committee (CAC) method (http://www.wingluke.org/community-process/). The Wing has institutionalized a practice of engaging everyday community members to envision and implement exhibitions, and programs, working hand-in-hand with community members to create powerful, authentic stories and experiences. We work with multiple generations of diverse APA communities, including newer immigrants, refugees and migrants from Southeast and South Asia and the Pacific Islands. Community members meet over 12-24 months to organize community participation, determine themes and storylines, create exhibitions and related community programs, ensuring direct community empowerment and ownership. “Stories across Generations” will be rooted in our community process, led by a Community Advisory Committee in partnership with Northwest Communities of Burma. (See attachment for partial list and bios of Committee members.)
The project lead is Michelle Kumata, our Exhibit Director, who also developed The Wing’s 2010 “A Refugee’s Journey of Survival and Hope” exhibit, and several exhibits related to the refugee experience (2015 “Naga Sheds Its Skin: Khmer Americans”, 2012 “Vietnam in the Rearview Mirror”, and 2010 “Paj Ntaub: Stories of Hmong in Washington”). Ms. Kumata has extensive experience collecting oral histories for exhibits and training community members to do the same. Oral histories will be transcribed and translated with drafts reviewed by The Wing staff, community partners and participating youth. Five interviews will be selected for videography based on willingness of participants and diversity of stories. Ms. Kumata also has produced several easily-transportable pop-up displays, including “Meet Me at Higo” and “Nisei Veteran” for community festivals and outdoor gatherings.
The digital archiving event will be led by The Wing’s Collection Manager Bob Fisher who has been with the Museum since 1996 and is responsible for overseeing The Wing’s Collections, Governor Gary Locke Library and Community Heritage Center, museum loans, acquisitions and accessioning of artifacts, and online collection database. Mr. Fisher implemented the Museum’s digitization program in 2000 and has since been the lead for the digitization of over 7,000 photographs and imaging of over 1,000 objects and 500 archival documents. Mr. Fisher has attended the Northeast Document Conservation Center School for Scanning at the Getty Center and holds a Digitizing and Sound Recordings certificate from the American Association for State and Local History. The Wing follows standard museum practices as outlined in our collection management policy and would include providing participants with appropriate loan documents, use permission forms, protective folders and containers, restricted access to original materials, monitored environment and stable and restricted storage areas. Additionally, we will adhere to and reference other sources for digitization such as the Federal Digitization Guidelines Initiative, American National Standards, Getty Conservation Institute and Heritage Preservation. Volunteers from Northwest Communities of Burma will be trained and ready to gather metadata describing each item. Volunteers will also share about how to best preserve physical items at home and provide them with a simple handout with best practices.
Managing the public presentation is Vivian Chan who has been the Museum’s Community Programs Manager since 2000. Ms. Chan plans and implements a broad range of public programs both onsite and offsite (approximately 60 each year). Last summer Ms. Chan assisted in hosting 80 educators from around the country who attended The Wing’s National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture workshops for teachers. The public presentation and project components will be publicized through a range of media outlets (see under "implementation").
Previous meetings with our Community Advisory Committee (CAC) established the components for this project. Preliminary work has already begun including:
• January-March 2017- Begin outreach for oral history trainings through community networks (12 youth signed up as of February);
• March 2017- Continue meeting with CAC to discuss oral history interview questions and confirm training locations and desired make-up of participants;
• April-May 2017- Confirm participants for oral history trainings, finalize training materials, continue to publicize events through community networks and The Wing media outlets.
• June 2017- onward - Hold monthly meetings of the CAC related to project development and implementation;
• July-August 2017- Conduct two oral history trainings, gather oral histories, purchase digitization equipment, test and prepare for digitization event;
• September-October 2017- Hold one-day digitization event; transcribe and translate oral histories;
• November 2017-January 2018- Produce pop-up display to showcase project and its stories and materials;
• February 2018- Hold public presentation; begin work on online resource;
• April-May 2018- Complete online resource, appraise digitized materials and incorporate materials and metadata into The Wing’s database, conduct evaluation of collected materials and project overall.
After the close of the project, materials will be made available through The Wing’s Governor Gary Locke Library & Community Heritage Center, the Museum’s onsite and online collection (http://db.wingluke.org/). Evaluation of the project will help inform future community projects to gather oral histories, digitize materials and present stories and will be completed through a summative survey of participants and community partners, quantitative attendance tracking for the oral history trainings, digitization event and public presentation, and anecdotal notes from project staff.
For a lasting contribution to King County heritage, primary outcomes include:
• Creating a platform for the Burmese American community to share their personal stories and heritage in King County across generations and among diverse ethnic groups as well as to the broader public;
• Training youth and families to gather oral histories and educating community members about the value of preserving heritage materials;
• Creating permanent resources to share about the Burmese American experience in King County; and
• Raising general awareness and understanding of the Burmese American experience and refugee community and recognizing that they are an integral part of King County’s heritage.
And specific objectives concurrently will be to:
• Directly engage 10 Community Advisory Committee members and 1 project partner to gather oral histories, digitize materials and produce public presentation, pop-up display and online resource;
• Compile 20 oral histories of Burmese American community members (15 audio and 5 video); digitize photos, artifacts and documents from 10 more, along with research to be highlighted through the online resource and archived in our Governor Gary Locke Library and Community Heritage Center (free and open to the public) and made accessible for future research;
• Reach 100 attendees at the public presentation, with the pop-up display on view; and
• Publicize through a range of media outlets including The Wing’s e-news (13,000 households), quarterly calendar (12,000), educator newsletter (1,000), website (25,000 monthly visits), and social media (7,500/Facebook, 3,600/Twitter).
- People - $26,785
- Services - $3,400
- Supplies - $500
- Promotion - $2,120
- Transportation/Shipping - $1,000
- Equipment/Fixtures - $9,900
- In-Kind - $6,800
- Other - $12,745
- TOTAL - $63,250
- Applicant - $34,200
- Government - $12,000
- In-Kind - $6,800
- 4Culture Request - $10,250
- TOTAL - $63,250
Project Budget Notes
The proposed budget requests $10,250 from 4Culture (out of a total budget of $63,250) to provide stipends for youth who assist with the oral history gathering ($4,500 out of $6000 total cost, 20 youth x 20 hrs x $15/hr); $1000 in transportation for youth ($50 ea for 20 youth); pop-up display materials ($2500); graphic designer/design and fabrication of pop- up display ($1500); audio/video recorders and scanner/computer/USB drives for oral history and digitization equipment ($750 out of the total cost of $7400).
The 10 Community Advisory Committee members and 5 digitization event volunteers will donate their services at a value of $6,800 (10 members x 28 hrs @ $20 and 5 x 12 hrs @ $20/hr).
We have received partial funding of $12,000 for this project from the National Endowment for the Humanities Common Heritage grant program. This NEH Funding ($12,000) plus other funding from The Wing ($34,200), covers: The Wing’s staff and speaker and including $1500 of the cost for youth stipends (total $20,785), facility space rentals for public programs ($3,400); meeting/event supplies ($500); advertising/promotion ($2120); a portion of the equipment cost of audio/video recorders and scanner/computer/USB drives ($6650); and other (22% benefits based on staffing total ($4,133); and 18% overhead based on total excluding in-kind ($8,612)).
Optional Support Materials
01: The 1976 photograph shows Simon Khin with his family in Rangoon, Burma, right before being sponsored to come to the U.S. in October 1977.
- Biographical Information for select Community Advisory Committee Members
- First Days Fleeing Myanmar - Ta Kwe Say Lands in Los Angeles
- Karenni State Refugees Learning about American Dream in Tukwila
- Letter of Support from Simon Khin
- Kent youth ring in new year, Karen style