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Wing Luke exhibit shows the resiliency and community of Asian American and Pacific Islanders during COVID-19

In celebration of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, we are hosting a series of profiles and stories to amplify and honor people, businesses, organizations, and projects connected to the history of Seattle’s AANHPI community.

Although she personally witnessed the heartwarming ways her Korean American community had come together and shown resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic, Erica Chung was concerned that the overall experience of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities during this time was not being adequately recorded or represented. So, she teamed up with The Wing Luke Museum to develop the mixed media exhibit “Community Spread: How We Faced a Pandemic.”

“I didn’t see anyone else collecting Korean American COVID-19 stories,” says Chung. “We need to hear their stories of how they have coped and come together to support those in need. This is an opportunity for us to learn about our community’s collective actions and provide a message for future generations.” 

The exhibit is comprised of photographs, artifacts, oral history excerpts, and original artwork that shares stories from a range of AAPI residents highlighting their experiences enduring the COVID-19 pandemic. It also includes an interactive StoryMap, available in the gallery and online. 

“Resilience.” Poster artwork by Monyee Chau

Because many Asian American and Pacific Islanders own businesses or work in the food service and retail industry, their community has been disproportionally impacted by COVID-19 closures and service restrictions. In addition, the pandemic has amplified existing biases in our society as surges in anti-Asian violence and hate crimes have shaken the nation.

A Community Advisory Committee (CAC) has met monthly since August 2020 to develop the messages, themes, content, design, and accompanying public programs for the exhibit. Community members have helped with collecting oral histories, interpretation and framing of the exhibit themes, taking documentary photos, and selecting artwork.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused so much grief, hardship, fear, and isolation,” says Mikala Woodward, Senior Exhibit Developer at The Wing Luke Museum. “But the CAC’s conversations over the course of the project made it clear that this crisis has also shown us the importance of compassion, connection, and mutual aid, and renewed our commitment to community. It is important to reflect on what we have lost, what we have learned, and what we want to carry forward as we prepare for the future. The museum is so grateful to volunteers like Erica who collected so many personal stories from community members. They will be preserved in our archives so future generations can understand how AAPI communities experienced this incredibly difficult year.”  

“I hope, through this project, [viewers] learn about AAPI experiences – how they have survived, their resiliency, our humanity in times of crisis, and lessons learned from this experience,” Chung says.

The exhibit is supported by the Department of Neighborhoods Neighborhood Matching Fund and will be displayed at The Wing Luke Museum from May 7, 2021, through February 18, 2022.

“We Are In This Together” C-ID mural, part of mural painting campaign that grew up
after C-ID businesses were boarded up in June 2020. Photo by Tony Ngo