‘At First Light’ Dawns at JANM

Visual Communications staffers Eddie Wong, Robert A. Nakamura, and Alan Kondo line up a shot, Los Angeles, circa 1972. (Visual Communications Photographic Archive)

“At First Light: The Dawning of Asian Pacific America,” a multi-media exhibition that explores and celebrates the emergence of a politically defined Asian Pacific American consciousness and identity, will open at the Japanese American National Museum on May 25 and remain on view through Oct. 20.

The exhibition is a co-production of JANM and Visual Communications (VC), the first Asian Pacific American media organization in the country, which formed in Los Angeles in 1970 to capture and cultivate the newfound unity that was Asian Pacific America.

“At First Light” chronicles the transformation of the un-American categorization of “Oriental” to the political identity of “Asian Pacific American” that rejected racist stereotypes, stood up for human rights, recovered lost histories, and created new cultural expressions. The exhibition draws from hundreds of thousands of photographs and more than 100 videos in VC’s collections. In the present-day climate of xenophobia and racial profiling, “At First Light” seeks to strengthen current resistance and resolve by evoking the legacy of Asian Pacific American activism.

Rooted in the documentary tradition and recording the flashpoints of social justice as they unfolded, the activists of VC were a constant presence, with cameras in hand, at both demonstrations and cultural celebrations. The newfound consciousness and activism they witnessed and encouraged led to a political awakening that overhauled how Asians in the United States were viewed — and, more importantly, how they viewed themselves.