6 Museums and Tours Where You Can Learn About Asian American History

From Wing Luke Museum in Seattle to a jeepney tour in L.A.’s Historic Filipinotown, here’s how to make the most out of APAHM this year.

A grafitti art piece  in New York City that says "Chinatown."

These six tours and museums around the country offer a deep dive into Asian American history.

Photo courtesy of Mott Street Girls

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill that designated the first 10 days of May to be Asian Pacific Heritage Week. In 1992, George H. W. Bush extended the celebration to be a month-long recognition of the influence and impact that Asian Americans had on U.S. history and culture—Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (APAHM) was born.

Asian American history is complex and multifaceted—there are, after all, 50 ethnic groups that speak 100 different languages that fall under the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) umbrella. For this APAHM, AFAR suggests six museums and tours that touch on the richness and diversity of the Asian American identity—read on to learn more.

The exterior of the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle

The Wing Luke Museum in Seattle is the only pan-Asian museum in the United States.

Photo courtesy of Otto Greule/Wing Luke Museum

Wing Luke Museum

Location: 719 S King St., Seattle

The Wing Luke Museum, located in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, is the only Pan-Asian museum in the United States. It is named after Wing Chong Luke, a former Seattle City Council member and the first Asian American to hold a public position in the Pacific Northwest. Inside, visitors will find paintings, photographs, and textile pieces created by Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. In addition to their artistic and historical exhibits, the museum also holds programs and events and arranges tours of local Seattle neighborhoods. If you’d like an Asian American history–focused tour of Emerald City’s Japanese American community or Chinatown, the museum has a variety of guided walks to choose from. Tours start at $25.

Inside the barracks of Angel Island Immigration Center

Angel Island Immigration Station was the main immigration hub of the West Coast from 1910 to 1940.

Photo courtesy of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

Angel Island Immigration Museum

Location: Angel Island, Tiburon, California

Angel Island Immigration Station was the West Coast’s answer to Ellis Island. While the exact number is unknown, an estimated 1 million immigrants passed through Angel Island’s doors, including 250,000 Chinese and 150,000 Japanese people. However, thanks to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Angel Island limited the number of Asian immigrants allowed into the United States.

These days, Angel Island is managed by the California State Parks and is home to 740 acres with forested hiking trails and sandy beaches. Visitors can also tour the Angel Island Immigration Museum to learn about the hardships Asian Americans faced and view recreated living spaces and original poems written in the detention barracks. Tours start at $5 per person.

Two Mott Street Girls tour guides

The Mott Street Girls know their stuff when it comes to Manhattan’s Chinatown—their food tours are not to be missed.

Photo courtesy of Mott Street Girls

NYC Chinatown Walking Tour with Mott Street Girls

Location: Manhattan, New York City

Manhattan’s Chinatown is the largest in the United States and is home to the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere. One of the best ways to experience the hustle and bustle of Chinatown is with a Mott Street Girls walking tour.

Owned by Asian American NYC locals, they take visitors on an educational journey along the unofficial main street of Chinatown, Mott Street. Every weekend, the Mott Street Girls host a “Relive Life Under the Chinese Exclusion Act” tour to give visitors and locals a deeper understanding of the challenges Chinese people faced during the 1800s and how the ramifications of the law are still felt today. In addition to the history-focused walking tours, Mott Street Girls also has a “Flavors of Old Chinatown” tour, which focuses on all the delicious eats that the neighborhood is famous for. Walking tours are $35; the food tour is $60.

Historic Filipinotown Jeepney Tour

Location: 153 Glendale Blvd., 1st Floor, Los Angeles

Though it’s believed that the first Filipinos made their initial trip to what is now known as California with Spanish conquistadors in 1587, the first large wave of Filipino immigrants to arrive in the Golden State came in the 1920s. Many settled in a neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles that’s now known as “HiFi” or Historic Filipinotown.

Visitors can take a deep dive into L.A.’s Filipino history from the back of a 1944 jeepney (a colorful, open-air vehicle that’s a popular transportation in the Philippines) with a tour organized by the Pilipino Workers Center. Via the jeepney, guests visit important landmarks in the neighborhood and Filipino community, including Unidad Park, which features a large mural of Filipino American heroes and Temple Seafood Market where fish are killed, cleaned, and fried or grilled for diners. The jeepney is also available for private tours and events. Tickets start at $25 per person.

People viewing a display inside the Hmong Cultural Center in St. Paul

In addition to their exhibits about Hmong culture, the museum also offers assistance to new immigrants through English and citizenship classes.

Photo courtesy of the Hmong Cultural Center

Hmong Cultural Center Museum

Location: 375 University Ave. W., #204, St. Paul, Minnesota

When the United States withdrew from Southeast Asia in the 1970s after the end of the Vietnam War, large numbers of Hmong people in Laos sought refuge in the USA—many had helped the CIA during their “secret war” in the country. Thanks to a program started by the University of Minnesota Agricultural Extension Service that provided land, education, and other kinds of support to Hmong farmers, many decided to settle in the land of 10,000 lakes. Now, as of the 2020 census, there are more than 90,000 Hmong people in Minnesota.

In the Twin Cities’ Little Mekong Cultural District, the Hmong Cultural Center Museum showcases the Hmong people’s history, art, and contributions to Minnesota. Exhibits on display at the center feature beautiful examples of Hmong jewelry, embroidery, and other cultural artifacts. Here, you’ll also find the most extensive library of Hmong-related literature and research available in the country. Admission is $7 per person.

Afterwards, plan to spend your afternoon eating at the nearby Hmong Village, where there are more than a dozen restaurants and 250 vendors selling everything from beauty products to chiropractic services. On May 6, the Hmong Cultural Center and HmongTown Marketplace will offer a guided tour of Hmong Village. In addition to offering insightful information and history about the city’s Asian community, it will allow time for shopping and browsing.

A Vietnamese Buddhist Temple, Teo Chew Temple, in Houston

Houston’s expansive Asiatown is comprised of both Little Saigon and Chinatown.

Photo courtesy of Pavel Kaplun/Asiatown Houston Bus Tours

Asiatown Houston Bus Tour

Location: 5300 N. Braeswood Blvd., Ste. 4-207, Houston

Houston ranks as one of the most diverse cities in the country, and there’s perhaps no place easier to experience the diversity of H-Town than in Asiatown. Though it’s colloquially known as Chinatown, this southwestern neighborhood of Houston is home to a number of different communities: Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian people (among many others).

Clocking in at 4.5 hours, the Asiatown Houston Bus Tour offers an immersive look at the history, food, and art of Asiatown. Local Asian American residents lead the tours. They begin at Teo Chew Temple, an expansive Vietnamese Buddhist temple, followed by stops in Bellaire (one of the best food neighborhoods in the city) and at Houston’s Vietnam War Memorial. Prices start at $75 per person.

Lauren P. Reyes is a freelance writer and photographer covering travel, wellness, and lifestyle. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, she now calls Arizona home.
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