Open Letter to the APAC administration
- By The Editors of the Massachusetts Review
July 17, 2023
To the Administrators of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center:
We, the editors of the Massachusetts Review, are writing to express our deep disappointment and concern regarding the recent and very unexpected cancellation of this year’s Asian American Literary Festival, just weeks before its opening and after over a year of planning and investment, in both human and monetary terms, by countless organizations and individuals. This year’s festival was more important than ever, following the last several years of anti-Asian violence and hate crimes in the U.S., and we know many writers from around the world who made plans to attend and bring their creative energies together at this critical time. The last-minute cancellation of the festival, with little warning or reason, sends a chilling message about the precarity of Smithsonian’s support for Asian American literature.
In 2017, we were invited by Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis and Cathy Schlund-Vials to collaborate on a special issue of our magazine based on and largely featuring work from the first Asian American Literature Festival in D.C. We were honored to accept and proud to collaborate with the Smithsonian; we have never thought of our publication as merely local or regional, but rather as part of the larger national literary scene that we have contributed to for over six decades. Over the next year and a half, our collaboration with Lawrence and Cathy was a simply stellar working experience, and we regard the resulting special issue, Asian American Literature: Rethinking the Canon, as a true milestone for our publication. As one reader, himself a storied professor of Asian American literature and history and a contributor to our volume, commented: this issue changes the field.
Our participation in the ground-breaking work curated by Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis did not end with the publication of that special issue. We are thrilled to report that this single issue has had the impact we hoped it would—diversifying and expanding the reach and impact of our magazine. We closely monitor the number of authors we publish according to many different criteria, and we’re happy to report that, in the five years since our Asian American issue, the number of Asian Pacific American authors we have published has increased exponentially compared to our previous decade.
We mention this concrete development simply to emphasize one of countless material changes that have arisen from the incredible successes of the past Asian American Literary Festivals in D.C. In August 2019, several of our editors attended the second such festival to represent our magazine and celebrate with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center our common achievement. The festival gave us the chance to meet some of our nation’s finest authors, to hear their work, and to be once again energized by the tremendously positive, supportive, and affirming vision that this event promised to collectively express. During those amazing three days in our nation’s capital, the vision we shared and the energy we found there exceeded anything we could have anticipated. That, in a word, is why we are writing today. The sense of shared loss and grief we experienced at the shocking news of the cancellation of this year’s festival has left us, like countless others, angry, confused, and certain that that this decision has been a dreadful, tremendously damaging error.
We mourn the loss of this opportunity to come together, celebrate, and extend the achievements of the Asian Pacific American literary community. As we have seen first-hand, the work of this community represents the highest achievements and values of our nation, and thus of the culture that it is the mission of the Smithsonian to steward. We worry about the effects of this sad and sadly mistaken decision on the literary arts in Asian Pacific communities in this country and abroad, as well as to our nation as a whole.
The present lack of transparency about the festival’s cancellation is, frankly, bewildering. We ask that, at some point in the very near future, the administrators of the Smithsonian make clear how this egregious mistake happened, and how it was possible that its own mission could be so grievously betrayed. We expect that, as the full effects and the misguided nature of this decision become evident to all, those responsible will admit to their errors, apologize sincerely, and then offer their resignations.
Resignations will not excuse or remedy the loss, but they will at least offer the possibility of a fresh start in the future.
Carl Hancock Rux