Such a moment occurred in September in Austin, Texas, as the staff of the Asian American Resource Center (AARC) were setting up I Want the Wide American Earth – An Asian Pacific American Story, a Smithsonian traveling exhibition created with the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center.
This exhibition celebrates Asian Pacific American history across a multitude of cultures and explores how Asian Pacific Americans have shaped and been shaped over the course of our nation’s history.
Michael Miyasaki, a building and grounds specialist at AARC, was helping to set up the exhibition in mid-September when he spotted a photo of an Asian American member of the military during World War II. The man’s features looked familiar, and when Mike checked the name in the caption, he discovered that the man in the photo was his uncle. With chills, goosebumps, and tears, Mike showed the staff of AARC the only known photograph of his uncle Sgt. Herbert Miyasaki.
Mike’s family is Japanese-Chamorro. Chamorros are the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, including Guam. Uncle Herbert left Guam for Hawaii and enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight in World War II. Mike’s 85-year old father had not seen his older brother since he left home for Hawaii and the military. The family had lost track of this uncle.
Mike relocated from Guam to Austin in 2006 and has been working at AARC for about 18 months.
AARC just celebrated its second anniversary during the opening of this exhibition. At the very end of the opening, the staff brought Mike up to the stage. AARC managers Taja Beekley and Laura Esparza introduced Mike and told his story, all of them in tears. The audience was stunned and surprised. Mike became an instant celebrity, with at least 15 requests for photos and videos from media including ATXN, a city of Austin TV Channel, and the national Chinese media outlet Epoch Times.
Yvonne Lin Wilson, AARC marketing representative, said that this connection “. . . brought everything home. It was very powerful to end the event on that note.” Mike’s wife Jacqueline and his daughter Kayla are continuing to research the life of Sgt. Herbert Miyasaki in hopes of finding him or some of his family members. Mike’s seven children and seven grandchildren now have a new chapter to explore in their family history. This series of connections through time and generations from Guam to Hawaii to World War II and to the U.S. mainland, brought together by a photo, are the stuff of families, culture and history.