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Documentary Heritage

Documentary Heritage

The Asian/Pacific Islander/American History Project of Greater Rochester (APA-HiP) worked with community scholars and surveyors to document historical records under a $14,772 grant awarded in 2003 by the Documentary Heritage Program (DHP), established by the New York State Legislature in 1988 to address the needs of historical records programs across New York State.

APA-HiP was the first pan-Asian community project to be funded under DHP, which awarded a total of $100,000 in grants to 14 organizations. The APA-HiP grant focused on the four largest Asian American ethnic groups in the six-county Greater Rochester region: Asian Indians, Chinese, Koreans, and Southeast Asians (Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian). In addition, other smaller populations, such as Filipino, Samoan, Nepali, and Pakistani, was also  surveyed.

The survey is the first phase of a three-part documentary archive plan, designed to ultimately make historical records available to scholars, students, and the general public for research and educational purposes.

During the first phase, APA-HiP employed community scholars and surveyors to conduct a comprehensive survey of historical documentary records held by organizations, employers, individuals and colleges/universities. A consulting archivist and project advisory committee, made up of APA community leaders, helped with planning and setting collection policies.

"Already, we have identified more than two dozen organizations we believe are holding records of historical value to our community," said Vivien Hao, co-founder of APA-HiP and a project advisory committee member. "We encourage anyone who may have photos, immigration papers, minutes, bylaws, and other documents pertaining to Asian Americans in this area to contact us."

"We know the first Asian American family settled in Rochester in the 1870's, and that in the last 20 years, the APA population has grown faster by percentage than any other racial group in the Rochester area," Hao added. "Our project seeks to collect, document and preserve knowledge about the contributions and achievements of Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent."

According to the 2000 US Census, there are about 25,000 persons of Asian or Pacific Islander descent living in the Greater Rochester area (Monroe, Wayne, Orleans, Genesee, Ontario and Livingston Counties). This represents 2.5 percent of the general population of about 1 million people.

APA-Hip's documentary survey was conducted in cooperation with the University of Rochester's Rush Rhees Library, Division of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation.

APA-HiP Project Objectives

The project identified a body of records that will document the contributions of APAs to their own as well as the larger community. Documents will portray a picture of their unique and diverse experiences as immigrants to the area, as well as their fight to shed the "perpetual foreigner" mantle and become fully accepted into American society. The project also seeks to dispel the "model minority" stereotype, by documenting the lives of APAs as experiencing widely varying levels of success in the Greater Rochester area. Nationally, while 44 percent of all APAs 25 years or older have college or professional degrees (28 percent for whites), more than 60 percent of Cambodians, Hmong, and Laotians have not completed high school.

On a national basis, APAs have a higher household income than any other racial group. However, they also tend to have more persons employed in each family, work longer hours, and live in metropolitan areas where housing costs are typically higher. This is certainly the case in Rochester, where Chinese and Indian Americans are clustered in Brighton, one of the highest-priced neighborhoods in the Greater Rochester area. At the same time, much of the area'­s Southeast Asian community live and go to school in the inner city, where all family members may work six or seven days a week in small retail or food service industries.

In fact, a significant portion of Southeast Asians in Rochester live at or near the poverty level; the average self-employed Vietnamese American earns $14,000 per year. Moreover, one in three APAs live in a linguistically isolated household, where no one aged 14 or older speaks English fluently, leading to broad social and economic problems for the family. Older Asian American women have the highest suicide rate of women over 65 in the U.S. and nearly half of APAs have difficulty accessing mental health services because of language barriers.

The project identified documents available in the APA community that facilitate greater general public awareness of the community'­s diversity and issues. The experience of community scholars and surveyors in the first year has shown that many of the records have already been lost/destroyed or are scattered in various locations without proper cataloguing or organizing. APA-HiPís efforts have begun spreading the understanding that these documents need to be preserved.

To further the goal of making these documents available, once the surveys are complete, APA-HiP plan to produce a multilingual guide that will report on the findings, contain a list of documents surveyed, and describe the plan of work for future phases of collecting, archiving, and displaying documents and artifacts. Special attention will be given to making this guide available to the APA community organizations surveyed, as well as public libraries and educational institutions in the Greater Rochester area. In the long term APA-HiP plans to begin collecting the documents identified by the survey project, which the owners are willing to donate, in order to create an archive. The archive may be housed in the Division of Rare Books, Special Collections and Archives at the University of Rochesterís Rush-Rhees Library. The Division has worked with APA-HiP during the first part of the survey project.