We write today in solidarity with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and join those condemning the appalling acts of racism, violence, and discrimination committed against these communities across the nation.
Ten long, sad days have now passed since a mass shooting took the lives of eight people, including six Asian American women, in Atlanta, GA. This hate crime is simultaneously devastating and unsurprising, part and parcel with the rise in xenophobia and violence against members of our nation’s AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) communities that have unfolded over the course of this traumatic year. We know that the grief and anger extends far beyond Georgia’s borders. For us, this is personal, with so many violent attacks taking place here in San Francisco, Oakland, and the greater Bay Area. This hits close to home.
The Bay Area is known for its diversity—more than 23% of the population is AAPI, a number that increases to more than 30% in San Francisco. Yet, with this increased presence comes increased hostility. While our city is home to one of the largest Asian American populations in the country, the larger region is simultaneously the birthplace of the Page Act, the first restrictive federal immigration law in the United States, which barred Chinese women from immigrating into the country in 1875 and served as a template for future exclusionary legislation. The recent attacks have deep roots in the histories of our city, our state, and the nation.
Considered in relation to our present moment, the biographies of the Bay Area Japanese American artists Chiura Obata (1885–1975) and Ruth Asawa (1926–2013) include sobering reminders of the long-standing histories of discrimination, racism, and violence against our nation’s AAPI communities. Both artists were interned following Executive Order 9066, which imprisoned 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, nearly two-thirds of them US citizens, in camps during World War II. Today, Chiura Obata and Ruth Asawa are acclaimed as important and influential modern artists. Their extraordinary artworks are a testament not only to their respective contributions to the history of art, but also to the vitality and resilience of their spirits. The Fine Arts Museums are fortunate to hold multiple masterpieces by both artists in our collection, and as the Bay Area grieves and grapples with the violence that we are witnessing around us, we invite you to consider Obata’s and Asawa’s histories and artworks as sources of reflection and inspiration.