For much of American history, Asian Americans have had to contend with the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype— the perception that people of Asian descent in the United States, even native-born citizens, are thought of as unassimilable, or unable to adapt to American culture. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, to the Japanese internment camps of World War II and even the latest violent acts against Asian sex workers that were sparked by fear of the coronavirus, Asian Americans have historically been viewed as outsiders in society.
On the flip side of the coin, Asian Americans are also seen as the “model minority” — a belief that pigeonholes Asian Americans as having “made it” and characterizes them as being more successful than their peers in black and brown communities. It’s a harmful stereotype which not only pits Asian Americans against other minorities, but glosses over the various socioeconomic subtleties between various Asian ethnic groups and negates the obstacles Asian Americans have faced throughout the years.
However, despite the massive societal obstacles they were forced to contend with, Asian Americans working in the architectural and design fields have left an indelible mark on American society and physically shaped our world. Many became (and still are) the most in-demand visionaries of their time. Indeed, some were so impactful that just mentioning their last names, like Nakashima or Noguchi, immediately conjure up images of inspired design and luxury.
From architectural titans like I.M. Pei to master furniture artisans like George Nakashima to Googie trailblazers like Helen Liu Fong, design-savvy Asian Americans have shaped and continue to shape the way we live our lives.