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Asian American and Pacific Islander Culture and Traditions: Resources in the American Folklife Center

This research guide focuses on activities such as fieldwork, interpretation, and programming related to Asian cultures and Asian Americans as documented in the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress


Nagashima family in front of their home in Billings, Montana.
Kay Young, photographer. Nagashima family, Billings, Montana, home garden and foodways. August 20, 1979. Montana Folklife Survey collection (AFC 1981/005). Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

This guide provides an introduction to documentation of Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander materials and traditions in the American Folklife Center (AFC) archival collections, spanning the 20th century through the present.

The collections of the American Folklife Center reflect numerous identities, cultures, and languages across various Asian countries and  diasporas. In addition to the numerous archival collections received from fieldworkers, documentation projects conducted or sponsored by AFC reflect the rich cultural fabric and diverse experiences of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Presently, projects by several of the 2022 Community Collections Grant awardees continue this legacy, as seen by the work of the Louisiana Lao New Year Archive, Mark Lupenui’s project “Unearthing the Lost Songs of Kohala, Hawai’i,” and the Habele Outer Island Education Fund's project "Warp and Weft of the Remathau." which documents the traditions of master weavers of the Outer Islands of Yap, Micronesia. Learn more about these Community Collections Grant awardees and their work by reading the blogs in the Related Online Resources page.

Collections of note available for research in the American Folklife Center Reading Room are listed in the Searching the Collections page of this guide. These include the Vida Chenoweth Collection, the Center for Traditional Music and Dance Collection, the Brenda Beck Collection from Tamil, Nadu, India, and the Nancy Sweezy Collection. The first, reflecting over 60 years of fieldwork by renowned ethnomusicologist Chenoweth, comprises manuscripts, sound recordings, photographs, and films on her work across the globe, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea, among others. The Brenda Beck Collection includes over 13,000 items, with rich documentation of traditions from Tamil Nadu, India, such as folk tales, oral narratives, religious rituals and rites, and traditional music.

Major online collections found on the Digital Collections page include the Ethnic Heritage and Language Schools in American Project Collection, which contains fieldwork from a variety of language schools across the United States, and the Lowell Folklife Project Collection, a 1987-1988 field survey from Massachusetts, with oral histories and documentation of religious services and festivals, including a Cambodian Buddhist wedding ceremony and Cambodian and Laotian New Year’s celebrations. Similarly, the Montana Folklife Survey Collection includes depictions of everyday life and traditions, such as Japanese American foodways as described by the Nagashima family.

Also available on this guide's Digital Collections page, The Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection includes documentation of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean diasporic communities across the city. Select examples include images from a Japanese tea ceremony, Korean and Filipino dancers at a local Ethnic Dance Festival, and an interview with Mrs. Bong Hee Stephens on her work teaching traditional Korean dance.


Accessing Ethnographic Collections at the Library of Congress

The following guide offers general research strategies for use of the American Folklife Center collections.