Watching the younger members of the Asia Pacific Cultural Center perform at Puyallup’s Karshner Museum open house last week, Patsy Surh O’Connell couldn’t help but get emotional.
As founder of the Asia Pacific Cultural Center in Tacoma, she was one of 11 Washingtonians recognized in the museum’s new exhibit, “Who Are We? A Kaleidoscope of Washington,” which celebrates those who’ve made a difference.
Surh O’Connell saw her place in the exhibit as recognition for all of Asian culture across the state.
“I feel humble every time I see ‘Who Are We?’ and that I became one of them,” Surh-O’Connell said. “It’s such an honor to represent Asians in Washington state.”
I feel humble every time I see ‘Who Are We?’ and that I became one of them. It’s such an honor to represent Asians in Washington state.
Patsy Surh O’Connell, founder of Asia Pacific Cultural Center
The exhibit at Karshner, which is new this year, tells Surh O’Connell’s story. Surh O’Connell first moved to the U.S. in 1963 from the Republic of Korea in order to continue her education.
She met her husband in San Francisco. He was in the Army, and the two traveled all over the world. It was in Japan where Surh O’Connell learned a different culture.
In 1995, she brought her parents to America from Korea. In 1996, her father passed away. That was the year she founded the Asia Pacific Cultural Center in Tacoma, which represents 47 Asia Pacific cultures.
“I decided to honor my culture,” said Surh O’Connell. “Our heritage has to be shared. Second and third generations have to know who they are. I’m so happy after 23 years to see them find their voices.”
The “Who Are We?” exhibit traveled to Karshner from the Office of Secretary of State Kim Wyman. The exhibit was created by the office’s Legacy Washington, which creates new exhibits every year. After their time is up, the exhibits are moved to Karshner. This is Karshner’s fourth exhibit with Legacy Washington.
“Our partnership with the Karshner Center seemed to fit because we wanted to share these stories with students,” said Laura Mott, director of development for the Office of the Secretary of State.
The people recognized in the exhibit may not be well-known, added Mott, and all of them have experienced some sort of adversity.
We wanted students to come into the room and see someone they can relate to.
Laura Mott, director of development for the Office of the Secretary of State
“We wanted students to come into the room and see someone they can relate to,” Mott said.
Also recognized in the exhibit is 30-year Air Force veteran Rudy Lopez, who is now the director of the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Spokane, the resting place of 3,000 veterans.
“I feel humbled,” Lopez said at the open house. “I use this as a way to highlight what we do.”
The exhibit also recognizes the Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney, Duane French, Amy Alverez-Wampfler and Victor Palencia, JoAnn Kauffman, Jolene Unsoeld, Bill Ruckelshaus, Erik Larson and Hank Adams. More information is available online at sos.wa.gov/legacy/who-are-we/.
Karshner Museum staff members incorporated a Puyallup twist on the state exhibit by creating an interactive board that invites visitors to answer the question “Who Are We?” in Puyallup.
“(The board) is just to go with the exhibit and make it personal,” said Lynda Belt, museum exhibit and event planner.
Already, answers follow the thread of diversity.
The exhibit is about people who have made a difference. In Puyallup, we want to recognize that our community is representing a lot of different people.
Brian Fox, Puyallup School District communications direcor
“The exhibit is about people who have made a difference,” Puyallup School District communications director Brian Fox said. “In Puyallup, we want to recognize that our community is representing a lot of different people.”
Also new this year is the “History of the World through Artifacts and Inventions” exhibit, which features the evolution of technology through the years. A science exhibit is also on display.
The Karshner Museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. on weekdays and is located at 309 4th St. NE, Puyallup.