Statement on the TAAF Grant Read

On the Smithsonian’s Cancellation of the Asian American Literary Festival

The Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) is deeply disappointed with the Smithsonian Institution’s sudden cancellation of the 2023 Asian American Literary Festival (AALF) as reported by The Washington Post. AALF is a major space of creative expression and inspiration for Asian Americans and others, and we have difficulty understanding this cancellation when the festival has been successfully programmed since 2017, and attended by thousands of members of the public as well as fellow writers, artists, activists, and scholars.

We are also deeply concerned by how the cancellation has proceeded, seemingly without transparency or care for the many organizations and artists who have invested so much time, labor and material resources. The harm this has caused the Asian American arts community is incalculable and is directly at odds with the mission of the Smithsonian in general as well as the Asian Pacific American Center (APAC) in particular. 

AAAS has enjoyed a long partnership with APAC, including sponsoring past AALFs, and we see Asian American studies and the stewardship of Asian American arts, histories, and cultures as inextricably intertwined. For example, Dr. Franklin Odo (1939-2022) was not only the founding director of APAC but also a former president of AAAS and one of the field’s leading figures. 

The handling of the festival’s cancellation seemingly demonstrates a disregard for the Asian American community. The festival’s cancellation undermines APAC’s mission and raises questions as to what kind of partner the Smithsonian is to those of us committed to education around the full Asian American and Pacific Islander experience, especially with the possibility of a new national museum for Asian American history and culture on the horizon. This cancellation is happening in an atmosphere of other setbacks to telling Latino history within the Smithsonian. 

We as an Association call for the Smithsonian to publicly announce the return of the festival as soon as possible, to explain the reasoning behind this decision, and to address the harms caused by the cancellation of the Asian American Literature Festival, beginning with a response to the demands made by the organizers and participants in their open letter.

Founded in 1979, the Association for Asian American Studies is a professional network of scholars, teachers, and artists. AAAS is the primary research and teaching hub for Asian American Studies, an interdisciplinary field born out of the 1960s movements for racial justice, third world liberation, and student activism.