This article contributes to ongoing discourse that highlights oppressive institutional attitudes and approaches toward archiving materials that document the lived experiences of historically marginalized and minoritized people and communities. Through analyzing focus groups and interviews with members of minoritized communities about community archives, this article outlines four key tensions that exist around representation: holding conflicting desires of how to honor older generations; navigating methods of respecting privacy and cultural values; acknowledging the importance of preserving community history versus individual histories; and developing strategies for protecting the community. Together, these tensions illustrate the nuances of representation in archives: how members of minoritized communities navigate complex, often conflicting, affects within archival materials and how they protect themselves and future generations through visibility and invisibility. The authors introduce the concept of representational subversion, which they define as the ways in which historically minoritized communities balance and respect both their representation and erasure in society and archives, working through the tensions of honor, cultural nuance, individual value, and community protection. Representational subversion emerges among minoritized people/communities when they use their agency to protect themselves and the communities in which they find a sense of belonging. In explicating four tensions that mark representational subversion, the authors acknowledge a minoritized community's rights to be forgotten/forget (alongside their right to be remembered), to self-preservation, and to self-determination, and demonstrate the reach and perpetual threat of white supremacy in archives.

Principal acknowledgment: Before starting this article, we must first acknowledge that this work would not be possible without the participants' time, labor, knowledge, and vulnerability. We acknowledge that, along with others in the archives field, we continue to benefit in different ways by producing knowledge that is informed by participants' lived experiences. We are forever grateful and hope that our ongoing collective work in archival environments and beyond helps to disrupt the power structures that impact community-driven archives.

I very rarely see myself represented in media. Like, there's a handful of times where I've seen someone who looks like me, or is queer in the way that I'm queer. I stop and pay attention. And that's just generic media. Even if I see a fat Asian person on TV, I will pay attention. I know there's one eczema commercial that has a fat Asian guy. I'll stop and watch it. . . . It could be for anything, but it's so underrepresented. And especially if it's a fat Asian woman or a fat femme person, fat Asian femme. I stop and I pay attention. It could be for hemorrhoid ointment, it doesn't matter. It's that important. Thinking about the fact that commercials for things that I don't even want, that that representation is so meaningful to me. The idea of having that sort of representation and then [an] archive space where someone is not trying to sell me something—where that identity is being celebrated—is overwhelming. I can't begin to imagine what that would be like.

—Koomah, Houston, Texas, August 18, 2017

It's a whole different kind of viewpoint in terms of philosophy and cultural values that conflict with our parents' generation or the Nisei generation who were in camps . . . it wasn't acceptable for them to go out and say, “Okay, we should do this and stand up and fight,” because it wasn't something that was appropriate. It was disgraceful in terms of what our immigrant generation did. “We don't want you to make waves, we want you to get by.”

—Participant 1, Little Tokyo Historical Society,

Los Angeles, California, March 3, 2017

For historically marginalized and minoritized people, erasure—in mainstream media and in archives—is a complicated experience. Just as some may be used to the ways in which they cannot see themselves represented, so too might they also desire to subvert documentation for reasons that are specific to their communities, histories, and traditions. Representation, to put it bluntly, is complicated.

Through discussions with users of community-based archives in Southern California and with LGBTQ+1 Asian Americans2 in Texas, this article considers the embedded power structures that impact representation in community-based archives. It builds on work of archival studies scholarship, activist reflections, and insider knowledge around representation and visibility. It considers the concept of symbolic annihilation, which emerges when members of minoritized groups are underrepresented, maligned, trivialized, or erased in archives.3 Identifying tensions behind instances of symbolic annihilation4 in community-based archives adds to the discourse of archival representation and further underlines the harmful effects of oppressive power structures that control the historical record and challenge dominant archival praxis aimed at diversifying collections. To this end, this article asks: what are the nuanced and multidimensional ways in which symbolic annihilation in archives impacts historically minoritized people?

This article introduces the concept of representational subversion, which emerges when people with minoritized identities, particularly those who have experienced and have held memories of traumatic events connected to their identities, contribute to the underrepresentation or erasure of their voices, histories, and the communities in which they maintain a sense of belonging. Representational subversion is a self-preservation tactic in response to the relentless power of white supremacy. Underrepresentation or erasure in archives emerges as consequences when historically minoritized groups use their agency to honor the wishes, sacrifices, and struggles of older generations, respect cultural values, and protect the people and communities about which they care in the face of silencing and devaluing. During both studies, research participants discussed their lived experiences in connection with their identities and perspectives about representation in archives, media, their respective communities, and society. Some expressed the belief that their own stories are not important enough to preserve. Others furthered the discussion about (in)visibility, which revealed a tension between the desire to preserve the stories or materials that document atrocities in history for the public good and the desire not to retraumatize those who were affected. Along with not wanting to remind older family and community members of painful pasts, some participants identified the importance of respecting cultural values by not sharing stories or not urging others to share their stories. Their combined comments suggest the notion that hegemonic forces control or impact archival representation, even in initiatives created by a community, and that representational subversion can be a form of survival or resistance against structural violence.

Community and Community Archives

As people construct community to further understand and form their lived realities,5 community-based archives are intentionally created by members of a particular community to preserve their own stories and materials that document those lived realities. In turn, this affords community members more power to control personal and community narratives and how they are (re)presented. As individuals are not monolithic, the concept and function of a community is complicated by varying factors including but not limited to intersecting identities, cultural values, intergenerational differences, the pursuit of economic advancement and social mobility, politics, competing goals, and the fact that a community is perpetually changing and evolving as a reflection of society.6 Community archives are initiatives that center the narratives, histories, interests, and representation of the community itself, and for identity-based community archives in particular, many share a commonality: a sense of mistrust in institutional archives to respectfully and ethically care for the materials that document aspects of their respective communities, as well as their ability to create and sustain a physical environment that they can move through without institutional control over their being. Through community-based archiving, a community retains its power over its own records and narratives and the ways in which it is (re)presented, effectively resisting institutional control that places limits on members of a community to access and engage with their own records; they work for and are accountable to the community.7 Much archival studies discourse argues that community-based archives are initiatives that challenge dominant practices of archival institutions, as community members use their agency and cultural and experiential knowledge to create and intimately hold space for their communities, document what they deem is important to know about their past and present for the future, shape collective memory, and maintain control over their own narratives and the physical spaces in which they move.8

The construction of community-based archives is connected to empowerment, self-representation, and identities9 that intersect—for example, ethnicity, race, or religion,10 gender and/or sexuality,11 and bodies.12 There are substantial differences between community-based archives and institutional archives—which are commonly referred to as “mainstream” archives or repositories, thereby marginalizing community-based archives as “other”—a key difference being community-based archives' concerted efforts toward education, sustainability, and strengthening local capacity.13 As communities are always in the process of shifting and becoming,14 so are archives.15

Archival Silences

There is much engagement around the centrality of power in/of archives, alongside silence and erasure in history.16 Patricia Hill Collins highlights the fact that power structures are embedded in communities, noting the common epistemological framing of the never-neutral construct of community as apolitical and that it is “central to multiple forms of power relations.”17 A tense relationship exists between silence as systemic violence and individual or community silence as survival/protection. Scholars engaging with archives and power also engage archival silences. Michel Rolph-Trouillot identifies silences as both means and products of historical reproduction.18 In “Educating for the Archival Multiverse,” the Pluralizing the Archival Curriculum Group (PACG) reminds readers of the power of archivists to determine whose narratives are preserved and which ones are erased.19 Building on the theorizations of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, archivist Rodney G. S. Carter underlines the notion that archives are sites of power and control, resulting in reflections of what is considered of value and what is erased or, in other words, symbolic violence.20 So, while beneficiaries of a privileged demographic or representatives of the nation-state do not make decisions for the community archives sites of our research, state power still influences whether members of these minoritized communities contribute their stories or materials in their archives. Marta Boutchma writes about protecting collective memories and a shift to relocate LGBT archives from private to public spaces, which serves as a way to counter archival silence through visibility efforts.21 However, Boutchma recognizes the tension between an increase in visibility and community concern over the extent to which they maintain control over their stories and materials.22 Roderick A. Ferguson and J. J. Ghaddar provide further insight into the complex relationship between archivists, archives, institutions, and atrocities committed against people and communities and their right to be visible as part of history (or the right to be remembered) versus the right to privacy, to remain undiscoverable, and to prevent themselves and/or their culture from simply being absorbed into institutions and general society (or the right to be forgotten/to forget).23 In their respective works, they address how institutionalized modes of power perpetually impact minoritized people, subjects, and knowledges, and lead to silencing.

Symbolic Annihilation

As our research draws on the concept of symbolic annihilation, we refer to it as such here in the literature review. However, while thinking through the harms of archival representation (or the lack thereof), some of the authors intentionally distance this work from the term “annihilation” as it represents a very real bodily harm enacted by white supremacy. We want to recognize such lived violences—such as genocide, eugenics, and hate crimes—and acknowledge that we are speaking about the ways in which representation can but does not necessarily instigate such harms. Therefore, in other areas of this article, we refer to “underrepresentation,” “trivialization,” “marginalization,” and “erasure,” as some of us reject the continued use of “annihilation” as a symbolic condition.

Through their analysis of violence in network television drama, media studies researchers discuss systems of messages through mass media that regulate social relationships and determine what is identified as “real and normal and right,” congruent with dominant social hierarchies.24 They note that institutional processes produce these systems of messages, which opens a path to delineate control, power, identity, and underrepresentation in mass media.25 Defining representation as evidence of social existence, they identify absence as symbolic annihilation.26 Feminist media studies scholars such as Gaye Tuchman continued to develop this concept by shifting it from a mere absence of representation to highlighting the proactive ill treatment of women in mass media rooted in the ideologies of hegemonic power.27

Through firsthand collaboration with Samip Mallick to cofound the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA), Michelle Caswell introduced into archival studies the notion of countering symbolic annihilation in archives.28 As others who have built on this concept,29 Caswell, Cifor, and Ramirez advance archival theorizations by identifying the epistemological, ontological, and social impact of community-based archives. Through this research, they introduce the concept of representational belonging to indicate how community archives empower people who have been symbolically erased in media, institutions, and general society to claim authority and control over their own representation and narratives.30 In response to the underrepresentation of Filipino American narratives in archives, archivist Maggie Schreiner and Claro de los Reyes, an artist, educator, and community organizer, add to archival studies scholarship and build community through their collaborative oral history project in which capacity building within the local community is a key component.31 In analyzing community-based archives against institutional archival frameworks, Jimmy Zavala, Alda A. Migoni, Caswell, and Noah Geraci identify the ways in which community archives challenge dominant archival practices, including those that impact representation and counter symbolic annihilation.32

Whiteness and White Supremacy

For this article on the hegemonic forces that lead to the underrepresentation, trivialization, marginalization, or erasure of minoritized groups even within community-based archives created by the particular archiving community itself, we acknowledge that ideologies of white supremacy are perpetuated through an invisible, global system of structural violence. In his analysis of W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of White Folk 1910, Reiland Rabaka states that white supremacy:

Symbolizes the intensification of economic exploitation by adding a racist dimension to capitalist greed and colonial gain. Hinging on a diabolical dialectic that sees whites as superior and non-whites as inferior, white supremacy consumes the world of color and claims non-whites' contributions to human culture and civilization as European or white contributions to culture and civilization. This is so because from the white supremacist point of view, non-whites do not now and have never possessed culture and civilization and, therefore, could not possibly contribute to the (re) construction of something they do not now and have never possessed.33

A growing number of archival studies scholars, in addition to those in the related web of library and information science (LIS) scholarship, have explicitly engaged these concepts of power and the extent to which they control our engagements and institutions, wittingly and unwittingly. In a discussion about applying critical race theory to archival theory and practice, Anthony Dunbar describes whiteness as the “normative benchmark of social acceptability.”34 The extent to which white supremacy persists through structural whiteness and controls representation, visibility, and narratives in the United States is highlighted by Mario H. Ramirez's assertion that “diversity is allowed to thrive only if it refrains from challenging the ability of whiteness to control it.”35 This extent of control is further illustrated in April Hathcock's discussion about application requirements for diversity scholarships in LIS, effectively interrogating the notion that professional organizations (and academic institutions) reward racially underrepresented graduate students with a significant amount of financial assistance and professional development opportunities when they demonstrate a record of high-performing whiteness.36 In their study about social justice as a topic and tool, scholars Nicole Cooke, Miriam Sweeney, and Safiya Noble refer to whiteness as “an enduring and defining feature of the institutional climate” as well as “expressions of cultural normativity.”37 Caswell published a call to action for (white) archivists and educators to acknowledge white supremacy embedded in our institutions and how it impacts modes of practices, and for educators to train students to disrupt the status quo, or the normativity, of oppression.38 The latest provocations that interrogate whiteness and white supremacy are penned by our colleagues of color in LIS, which were published in a well-anticipated anthology titled Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies through Critical Race Theory.39

Archival studies and LIS literature that interrogate or name white supremacy are built on discourse from seminal works in other disciplines. In particular, sociologist and scholar W. E. B. Du Bois reflects on life as a Black man, resisting and protesting, while navigating a white supremacist society and the interconnected forces of structural whiteness that marginalize/cause harm to people and communities in American society.40 Zeus Leonardo explains that (white) “domination is a relation of power that subjects enter into and is forged in the historical process. It does not form out of random acts of hatred, although these are condemnable, but rather out of a patterned and enduring treatment of social groups.”41 UCLA law professor Cheryl I. Harris traces the history of how privilege in the United States was formally defined as being white, how racial designation has afforded one certain rights and refused others the same rights, and how the American legal system was founded on this premise.42 Harris informs readers that whiteness and property share “a conceptual nucleus—of a right to exclude”43 and conveys that to threaten or attempt to destroy either is punishable by law within legal and social systems shaped by U.S. Supreme Court decisions, higher education policies and practices, and the enduring value (to some) of white supremacy.44 As a reminder, the concept of whiteness can extend beyond the realities of racial privilege to encompass dominant ideologies based on gender, class, sexuality, ability, and other factors.45 Relevant insight comes from Patricia Hill Collins in her interrogation surrounding the construct of community, which she claims is “central to the symbolic and organizational structures of intersecting systems of power”46 and that protecting family and community “merge[s] within ideologies of white supremacy.”47

This article is based on the analysis of data sets from two different but related research studies. One project was conducted by a team of researchers at community archives sites in Southern California, and the other was conducted in Texas by the first author of this article. Although the wide variety of identities, locations, and organization types makes it difficult to compare across cases without collapsing important differences between communities and archives, the concept of representational subversion emerged from discussions across most sites. Quotations from interview subjects are attributed by name, with their consent, as a way of assuring intellectual credit is given to those interviewed and, by extension, the community archives themselves. The included quotations from focus groups are kept long so that the voices of the participants remain within context and are understood as intended. A total of fifty-nine participants between the two projects agreed to be identified by name in publication, and both studies were approved by the Institutional Review Board.

Research in Southern California

From November 2016 to May 2017, the research team conducted two focus groups at five community archives sites across Southern California: La Historia Society of El Monte (La Historia), Lambda Archives of San Diego (Lambda), Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS), Southeast Asian Archive (SEAA) at the University of California, Irvine, and The Studio for Southern California History (Studio).48 The research team employed a semistructured protocol to conduct the focus groups, which ranged from 60 to 120 minutes. Fifty-four participants for the focus groups were recruited in two ways: via flyers at the sites and through recommendations from archivists at the community archives sites.49 Participating community archives each received a $500 stipend, and participants in the focus groups were each compensated with a $15 Amazon gift card. With the permission of the participants, the focus groups were audio recorded and then transcribed. Transcripts underwent three rounds of coding within the team, using constant comparative analysis and coding procedures developed in grounded theory.50 The identified themes were then consolidated and verified by the research team using a consensus-based decision-making process to ensure they were exhaustive and mutually exclusive.

Research in Texas

In August 2017, the first author of this article conducted research independent of the Southern California research team. The exploratory study centered on LGBTQ+ Asian/Asian American representation in Texas archives consisted of 1) conducting research at archives in Austin, College Station, Dallas, and Houston; and 2) conducting focus groups/individual interviews, if possible, in those same cities with LGBTQ+ Asians or Asian Americans about archival representation in Texas and/or the American South in general. Potential research participants were recruited through electronic means: calls for participants posted on social media sites and emailed through their personal network, identity-based student organizations at universities, local community groups, and key contacts at local LGBTQ+ community publications. Semistructured interviews, ranging from 60 to 120 minutes, were conducted in person and via phone and recorded with permission from participants, who were compensated with a $25 gift card. The focus group was conducted in a closed room at the LGBT community center in Houston, and the individual interviews were conducted at a location of each participant's choosing. To locate themes in their study, the first author analyzed the interview transcripts and used the same codebook that the Southern California research team used. Among several themes for future research, the first author identified data that were aligned with the community-based archives data regarding the concept of representational subversion.

Positionality Statement

The authors feel it is necessary to acknowledge their own positionality and identities given the interpretivist paradigm in which this research was conducted. This is done to ensure transparency of possible factors that may affect researcher/participant relations and inherent power structures of the focus group format. The members of the research team occupy multiple and diverse identities; in some cases, they were insiders to the communities with which they engaged; in other cases, they were outsiders. The first author of this article identifies as a queer, nonbinary Filipinx American with a middle-class background. The second author identifies as a white, Disabled and chronically ill, nonbinary queer person from a middle-class background. The third author identifies as a white, straight, cisgender woman who grew up working class and is in the first generation of her family to graduate from high school. The fourth author identifies as a Chicano with a working-class background and is a first generation college student. The research team openly discussed and reflected on these differences and commonalities and believe this multiplicity ultimately strengthened the research, allowing them to collectively see more than each individual team member could alone.

Additionally, the research team would like to proactively acknowledge that this article is specifically structured and developed for academic consumption.51 As insiders of some of the communities with which we engaged, we hope to contribute to the ongoing, varied efforts in- and outside of academia to improve the conditions of institutional archives, particularly for folx who identify with historically minoritized communities to navigate these spaces as insiders or visitors and/or who wish to collaborate with or donate their collections.

Across both research studies, participants discussed their lived realities in connection with their identities and perspectives about representation in archives, media, communities, and society. While data in the article came from both research studies, we want to acknowledge that the majority of the quotations used in this article are from Asian/Asian American participants, some of whom identify with the LGBTQ+ community. Considering the participants' varying intersections of marginalized identities, we refer to historically marginalized or minoritized people throughout the article rather than just people who share a particular racial identity. We acknowledge that the themes identified in the article may resonate with many other historically marginalized or minoritized people, but we honor the temporal, spatial, and identity-based specificities from which they originate.

Our data demonstrate four prominent tensions, each of which illustrates how interviewees related to their representation within archives and their affective responses to navigating safety and privacy within representation: 1) honoring older generations, 2) respecting privacy and cultural values, 3) acknowledging the importance of preserving community history versus individual histories, and 4) protecting people and communities in the present and in preparation for the future. Together, these tensions demonstrate the nuanced ways in which archives—and other forms of representation—affectively impact minoritized people as well as how participants navigate these tensions as a way of both honoring and protecting their communities.

Tension 1: Honoring Older Generations

Many interviewees pointed out a tension between documenting the sacrifices, struggles, and contributions of older generations as a way to honor them versus honoring them by respecting their wishes to keep some materials private. Participants described how older family members sometimes did not want materials documenting their lived experiences accessible to people beyond their own families or communities. Multiple members of Little Tokyo Historical Society, for example, expressed their desire to honor older generations and continue their legacy by keeping materials in archives. Michael Okamura, for one, proudly notes his community's perseverance and his commitment to the historical society:

All of this is really to honor the legacy of the Issei generation, the first immigrants from Japan who toiled so hard with everything against them; very few language skills, English language skills, antidiscriminatory laws in the books, and they built all of this and then the Nisei generation, they honored it and they carried it forward, so it's been passed to generations, so I think it's in good hands with the next few.52

Cindy Abrams said simply, “I'm mainly here to honor [my father's] memory and to make sure that his story gets told.”53 Along the same lines, Shelly Niimi expressed her intentions:

I really want to make sure that the Nisei and Sansei generation are recorded as well as possible in what they did because they were the first ones here to establish this place and then they also went through World War II going to the internment camps and coming back and keeping Little Tokyo and, you know . . . Little Tokyo is in the good shape it is today because of those three generations.54

Framed by honor, respondents demonstrated the value in preserving the struggles, perseverance, and survival of previous generations.

However, while a common entry point for people involved with community archives is the desire to make sure stories are told in an effort to honor previous generations, interviewees also complicated this sentiment by illustrating how honoring older generations isn't always straightforward. Marcus Mizushima illustrates this ongoing tension:

It's sort of frustrating in a way, that's really the nicest way to say it at times because, you know, it's a part that you want to do . . . you want to have respect for the older generation and how it feels, but at the same time. . . . Well, if you don't tell us, what kind of happened there is going to end with you. We're not going to know what happened and is there something that we can help . . . the next generation with by getting this information, by getting to share that, I don't know, I mean, my mom doesn't want to talk about it essentially so after trying hard enough, I don't know what the other tactic is.55

A participant in a focus group at the Southeast Asian Archive, undergraduate art student Kevin Duc Pham described a similar tension:

So, I grew up hearing all these stories and seeing all these photos of a prewar Vietnam and hearing these stories of my family coming over here or other people's families coming over here. But no one really wants to talk about the war or what happened immediately after the war. That's just a gap in what I know and what people don't really wanna talk about. So being able to go through all these archives, and see all these newspaper clippings, and all these photos, it really means something to me because I'm seeing all these people and I'm just like, “I could know this person. I could be related to this person. These are people that look like me, people who have a shared history with me.”56

Acknowledging and navigating how “no one” wants to talk about events surrounding the Vietnam war, he therefore emphasizes the significance of his experience using the archive to understand that history.

Mizushima also shared a different perspective in regard to his parents' unwillingness to talk about what happened to them under Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. He wondered if one of the reasons behind his parents' generation's silences is that they might not want their adult children (or the younger generations) to “go through that” [in the retelling of traumatic events]. He states, “I think there's a reluctance to really talk that much about it, especially, you know, the parts that really hurt them.” Also discussing this tension, Michael Okamura justified a possible reason behind the older generation's silence, referencing a saying in Japanese:

Kodomo No Tame Ni, which is, “for the sake of the children.” So, everything from the immigrants, it was all done for the sake of their children, and their children, grandchildren, everything, and it's still very powerful today. So, we don't want to lose the image of Little Tokyo, but we need to move forward. We can look in the past, but we need to use [it] for reaching out into the future and honoring everything that was built by them and founded by them.57

Although many participants acknowledge the value of archives and archival representation as ways to understand the past, they also navigate older generations' wishes for privacy, anonymity, and protection. These dynamics complicate how community members envision honoring previous generations—through telling their stories, maintaining legacies, and/or respecting wishes for privacy.

Tension 2: Respecting Privacy and Cultural Values

The dynamics of the previous tension that surrounds honoring family and community members of older generations are directly related to and further complicated by the desire to respect privacy and cultural values. Respecting cultural values can be connected to honoring older generations, as cultural values are shaped by older generations and carried forward and sustained by the next generations. The data show a tension between the desire of those from the younger generation who want to know family and community histories of survival that may reveal details of hardship and their desire to respect cultural values to prevent the possibility of retraumatizing family and community members through their recounting of painful pasts. Participant 1 of LTHS, who wished to remain anonymous for this article, explained:

I mean, that whole proverb the Japanese—the nail that sticks up gets beat down—and that really tells you the difference between Japanese or Asian society and American society, you know, if you have a moral obligation to stand up for something that is wrong, that's built into our constitution, so it's like, it's your responsibility if our government has become tyrannical to stand up and fight. In Asian society you don't praise your child in public because you're afraid that these bad spirits are going to come and make the child sick. It's a whole different kind of viewpoint in terms of philosophy and cultural values that conflict with our parents' generation or the Nisei generation who were in camps and . . . it wasn't acceptable for them to go out and say, “okay, we should do this and stand up and fight” because it wasn't something that was appropriate. It was disgraceful in terms of what our immigrant generation did. “We don't want you to make waves, we want you to get by.”

Part of the same LTHS focus group, Shelly Nimii's immediate response to this sentiment was “It's like you're dishonoring the other people by talking about it.”58

However, along with acknowledging this sense of dishonor, Nimii relates the imprisonment of Japanese and Japanese Americans to the current federal government's treatment of Muslims and its call to ban them from entering the United States. She connects the importance of documenting past political atrocities to frame current atrocities and prevent future ones, referring to widespread, watered-down narratives that exist about previous generations who endured state power and violence:

I feel like there is this kind of simplistic story, like 120,000 people got interned and then they did what they could to get by and then they got out and then they were model citizens and they don't have as much discrimination as other minorities, but it's not that simple and it's not that easy. And part of it is covered because of the cultural thing to not talk about negative things but it was a bad experience that we don't want to happen to other people and that same mistake of, you know, happening to the Muslims after 9/11, you know, it's just an important thing to realize it's wrong, you know, so, and it wasn't good, it wasn't that easy like a lot people try to make it sound.59

In relation to cultural values, Nimii reflected further on the importance of loyalty among Japanese families, complicating it by commenting on an inter-generational tension:

I think that I feel like the loyalty, that kind of helps that intergenerational thing, but then I also think that, again because of the not culturally wanting to talk about negative things, there's kind of a separation there. For I think, overall the younger people, we'll talk more about negative things but I'm not sure if it's for everyone.60

Nimii recounts the time Marcus Mizushima showed her a picture of people standing in a line in front of the old Nishi church to board a bus to a prison camp. “It was a huge, scary thing . . . yes, my parents were in camp, yes they were in Minidoka and Poston, yes. ‘We had to give up all our stuff' is part of what you hear all the time, but . . . it was hard for me to get the impact of it all [looking at the photograph] and a lot of it is 'cause we don't talk about it, our culture.”61 Noting the impact of older generations not discussing their history—who would feel the impact of this record as it would reactivate their painful pasts—Nimii remarked on how intergenerational memory could facilitate her contemporary understanding of archival materials and the history they represent in meaningful ways.

These quotes illustrate how intergenerational trauma is communicated or kept private for multiple reasons. Cultural traditions around privacy—whether due to protecting future generations from trauma, dishonoring the community by discussing it, or not wanting to “make waves”—are held in tension with a desire to make sure people understand a complicated history. Building on Tension 1, these data indicate that the dynamics of wanting to preserve histories, pass on knowledge, and honor previous generations are complicated by respecting community and cultural values.

Tension 3: Acknowledging the Importance of Preserving Community History versus Individual Histories

Community members at multiple archives research sites acknowledged the importance of preserving community history, while also expressing a belief that their own individual (hi)stories are not important enough to preserve. Kristen Hayashi, a member of the Little Tokyo Historical Society and a PhD candidate in history at the time of the focus group, shared her experiences conducting her own research on the “return and resettlement of Japanese Americans to Los Angeles”:

I'm finding in my own research, there's very little in these repositories' post-war period, and again, I think it's because a lot of people have this stuff in their homes. But the other problem I'm running into is that finding people that I want to interview, they will say like, “you don't want to talk to me, my life isn't really that important, you know, you should talk to someone else,” and so . . . when you don't see yourself reflected in history books or in museum exhibitions or on TV, you don't really think that your history is that important right, that your story is important, so I think it's changing the mindset and getting people to realize that their story is important.62

Hayashi acknowledged a history of underrepresentation in mainstream media and cultural institutions, which delivered a sustained message to community members' that their individual realities are insignificant.

Questioning the significance of sharing or preserving one's own story is underlined by Rosa Peña at La Historia Society, a community-centered archives that primarily serves Latinx communities, who noted that fellow community members in El Monte have hesitated to share their stories because they “don't know if [their] story is that great.”63 This hesitancy is all too familiar to Peña, and, in response, she has tried to convey that they are “part of the history of the museum or part of El Monte.”64

Moreover, Julie Cho, a lecturer in Asian American studies and film and media studies, added dimension to this tension by identifying gender as a factor in the trivialization of community members' own lived experiences or perspectives. Cho recounted a discussion between students and Dr. Thuy Vo Dang, curator for the Southeast Asian Archive Center, where she learned about some of the struggles of a community archives (or collecting oral histories). She described learning about the difficulty not only in building trust toward community participation, but also in navigating those moments in which people “disqualify” themselves from being interviewed for an oral history, particularly women who would instead recommend that they interview their husbands.65 Cho, who identifies as Korean American, added, “[Interviewers] had to guide them through that process to mark themselves as significant.”66

Yet, participants also described feeling similar sentiments themselves. Members of the LGBTQ+ Asian/Asian American community in Houston, Texas, acknowledged the importance of preserving their community's history and expressed sincere concern that the histories of their “queer Asian elders” are already lost. And, when asked if the histories of LGBTQ+ Asian/Asian American communities in Texas are important to history, no one hesitated to respond in the affirmative. However, when asked if “the history of you” is important, all community members hesitated, explicitly expressing in some way their discomfort with responding in the affirmative, even though they also stated that their own histories are indeed important. Immediately, the focus group participants responded:

Koomah: I fall into that Asian humbleness.

Addie: I know!

Koomah: It’s like, my immediate’s like, “No!”

Addie: It’s really hard. I know!

T. Le: I wanna say yes and no. But I wanna say yes. . . . Like Koomah says, I wanna be humble . . . at the same time, not. . . .67

Even this short, spirited dialogue illustrates the tense resistance of affirming the significance of one's own histories—what Koomah refers to as “that Asian humbleness,” with which Tsai and T. Le (and the first author of this article) are familiar.

Echoing this theme, when asked if her own history is important, Melanie Pang, a queer, cisgender Chinese Filipina American, replied, “I am told that I have a story that is worth listening to, so I guess yes? I don't know. I feel weird saying that. . . .”68 Shortly after, when asked whether the histories of LGBTQ+ Asian/Asian American communities in Texas are important, Pang, without hesitation, said,

Oh, absolutely. There's so little information about them at all, and this is a good question. It's a trap. It totally confirms all the things that you're supposed to say in the other question. No, I'm just kidding. Really though. . . . I think it would be really empowering to know that in a place like Texas that is basically a walking trope of western ideals, [it would] be really nice to know that there are other people experiencing life similarly to how I am, or in relationship to each other, not just to me.69

Pang's words highlight that although community members can recognize the importance of their narratives in archives, they still hesitate to place value on including them.

These community members in Houston appear to be in general agreement in terms of their attitudes toward preserving the histories of their community versus their own personal histories. While they ultimately agree that both are important to preserve, the focus group's collective dialogue reveals the ways that individuals trivialize or negate their own narratives in archives and simultaneously suggests that societal and/or cultural forces control whether it is acceptable for them to affirm the importance of their own histories.

Tension 4: Protecting the Community

The data reveal a final tension between community members' intentional silence, which functions as a protection, and a desire to share their stories of community contributions as well as of traumatic events for the good of public knowledge. Shelly Nimii, as previously noted, spoke of this as she compared the realities of the older generation of Japanese Americans in prison camps to the current attack on Muslims by the federal government, stating how “it was a bad experience that we don't want to happen to other people.”70 Interviewees described a similar desire to share stories and be visible protecting community contributions and narratives. Bill Watanabe's perspective on sharing stories informs this tension:

Well, I do tell people we need Little Tokyo as a physical reminder of the contributions of this particular ethnic group to society, and that the historical society wants to make sure that that kind of preservation and storytelling is around, because we still, and this is changing, but we still live in a dominant white Anglo society, who, and these are very benign people, sometimes just assume that all Asians just got here, and that they haven't, you know, we didn't come on the Mayflower, so we haven't contributed to the building of America. And it's natural to think that way, especially if all you see are people who can't speak English and that kind of thing. So Little Tokyo is kind of like to say, no, we've been here, and. . . . I tell stories that if you were eating vegetables in 1910, there's a 90 percent chance it was grown by a Japanese farmer, or if you were eating tuna in 1910, there's a 90 percent chance it was caught by a Japanese fisherman. And so there are contributions to this society that have been made over the years, they may not be aware of it, but Little Tokyo is kind of a physical reminder. So we can't afford, getting back to Little Italy, see Italians are white so they can blend into society, but we aren't white, and so when there is an anti-Asian sentiment, then you guys are just newcomers, you haven't done anything, you haven't contributed anything, you could say no, that's not true, and so we can't just blend into society, we have to kind of keep promoting ourselves to say no, we belong here and we've been here.71

Watanabe clearly outlines the impacts of archival representation for Asian communities' protection: to educate broader communities on the histories of this community is pivotal for the protection of current and future generations of Asian Americans.

As the protection of their communities is vital, many participants reflected on how a sense of safety does not only come from visibility, but also from silence and invisibility, marking this tension. Remarking on archival representation of the LGBTQ+ Asian/Asian American community in Texas, Addie Tsai, a queer, nonbinary, mixed-race writer, poet, and professor, posed the question: “who is going to come out and speak about their queerness in what they imagine is the political climate of the state [Texas]?”72 Tsai's question highlights how dominant social, political, and cultural forces also impact or control representation in community-based archives initiatives in the United States and to some extent, the narratives of those communities. This quote identifies how community members may not want their narratives in archives as a way of protecting themselves or their community from potential harm. Along these lines, recalling his observation upon becoming a board member of Lambda Archives of San Diego, Charles Kaminski shared that in its early days, “the Archives was kind of hidden because of security reasons. You know, they didn't want anybody to firebomb it or destroy it.”73 While Kaminski is the only white interviewee to be quoted in this article, his words speak to the ways in which different minoritized groups navigate visibility. Together, these quotes illustrate the very real threats that minoritized communities face through their visibility and reasons why they may desire to subvert documentation.

Building on the previous three tensions, this final tension illustrates community members' wishes to maintain a sense of safety in their everyday lives through both the visibility and education of their community as well as their desire to protect the community through silence and invisibility. Especially for communities of color, this tension points to societal and/or cultural forces that may contribute to whether it is acceptable for them to affirm the importance of their own histories and make themselves visible. This tension illustrates the multifaceted ways in which communities may not want visibility: considering exploitation and harm, as well as public knowledge to protect and educate future generations, participants described the various reasons for not wanting to be seen or their stories to be known versus desiring to document atrocities in history and their accomplishments.

We have illustrated four key tensions that exist among minoritized communities that impact the ways they encounter and protect how their histories are represented in archives. Together, these tensions illustrate the nuances of archival representation: how members of minoritized communities navigate complex, often conflicting, affects within archival materials and how they protect themselves and future generations by navigating tensions between visibility and invisibility.

These findings complicate current literature in which the lack of representation in mainstream media and within institutional archives is negatively felt as erasure from history. These data show how underrepresentation, trivialization, marginalization, and/or erasure can also come from within communities for a multiplicity of reasons, some resulting from an active sense of agency. For example, the desire for archival invisibility can be a tool to protect one's community from harm. As stated previously, we want to distance ourselves from the use of the term “annihilation.” Instead, we acknowledge the ways in which the communities in these research studies experience violence through representation, misrepresentation, and erasure, while also recognizing how that is connected to the very real lived violences they experience through white supremacy. We therefore propose here a new concept, representational subversion, which we define as the ways in which historically minoritized communities balance, value, and respect both their representation in and erasure from society and archives, working through the tensions of honor, cultural nuance, individual value, and community protection. Representational subversion emerges among minoritized people/communities when they use their agency to protect themselves and the communities in which they find a sense of belonging. While representational subversion aligns with the ways that symbolic annihilation—as it's defined and used in the literature—can be internalized, we acknowledge the different violences that are experienced within representation (and the lack thereof), as well as the lived experiences of marginalized and minoritized communities. With the real possibility of harm, minoritized people sometimes negotiate their identities or authentic selves within the spaces they occupy to protect themselves. It is important to note that we do not engage the act of internalization to suggest that minoritized people permit the subjugation of themselves by external factors because they believe they are inferior; rather, we refer to internalization to note intentional or conscious control over the self using one's agency, particularly over presence, representation, and narrative in regard to one's well-being.

These ways of protecting are demonstrated throughout the data in the ways in which participants navigated the four tensions. First, participants recognized the value in honoring past generations, where, as Michael Okamura stated, “We can look in the past but we need to use it for reaching out into the future and honoring everything that was built by them and founded by them.” However, honoring the older generations also means possibly not talking about past harms. Participant 1 at LTHS reflected this when discussing the different generational viewpoints on standing up to fight by describing the older generation as discouraging the younger generation from “making waves” because it is considered disgraceful. These tensions underscore one facet of representational subversion as the desire to respect cultural values and honor older generations, which often involves continuing the legacy of self-preservation through privacy. Additionally, placing value on one's individual narrative within a community (and its archives) was described as a difficult task and a tension to navigate. Whether due to, as Koomah stated, “that Asian humbleness,” or other cultural forces or values, underrepresentation, trivialization, marginalization, and/or erasure can become internalized where one devalues their own narrative while simultaneously recognizing the importance of preserving a community's history. Last, a tension exists around visibility and community safety: as Bill Watanabe highlighted, “when there is an anti-Asian sentiment . . . [that] you guys are just newcomers, you haven't done anything, you haven't contributed anything . . . [so] we have to kind of keep promoting ourselves to say no, we belong here and we've been here,” and as Tsai asked, “who is going to come out and speak about their queerness in what they imagine is the political climate of the state?” Further, some in the older generation want to avoid retraumatizing themselves by remembering the violence committed against them by the nation-state. An additional layer of internalization and caution exists here in that people may not want to be perceived as challenging the nation-state, knowing firsthand its ability to impose violence on its citizens, so a negotiation of self to survive as a person of color, or otherwise minoritized, may occur at any given moment. With this understanding, the concept of representational subversion emerges hand-in-hand with the notion that underrepresentation, trivialization, marginalization, and/or erasure may be accepted consequences of a minoritized individual's or community's self-preservation, survival, or resistance. Therefore, representational subversion in archives is in some way intended to protect communities—to ensure the well-being of family, friends, fellow community members, and other minoritized groups that are negatively impacted by hegemonic forces.

These two research studies reveal a tense relationship between institutional silence as violence and individual or community silence as survival/protection. As Rodney G. S. Carter underlines the notion that archives are sites of power and violence, he explains, “The archive, as a reflection of and the source of state power, is extremely selective when deciding what gets in. Only those voices that conform to the ideals of those in power are allowed into the archive; those that do not conform are silenced. Those marginalized by the state are marginalized by the archive.”74 We therefore also consider how the nature of (institutional) archives can be understood by reiterating Rabaka: “white supremacy consumes the world of color and claims non-whites' contributions to human culture and civilization as European or white contributions to culture and civilization.”75 Through the decisions of archivists abiding by institutional policies that are influenced by the dominant, oppressive standards of the archives profession, institutional archives take ownership of materials that document the histories of people/communities of color and absorb/present them as elements that give dimension to the dominant (white) narrative. Therefore, when considering the ways in which marginalized and minoritized communities experience these tensions to keep themselves and their communities safe, we must also consider the prominent whiteness of institutional archives in which communities of color are also navigating.

While archivists and archives hold power to determine which narratives are preserved in the historical record (and how), the hegemonic forces rooted in white supremacy inform and impact those decisions, which are embedded in our everyday thinking. So, in our quest to simply diversify and build inclusive collections and spaces, it is imperative that we are aware at all times of this power structure and proactively resist it.

Through an analysis of the data, we underline the complex relationship between community archives, identity, representation, and power. Considering the implications of representational subversion, we are reminded or prompted to consider the impact of the actions of people and institutions with power, especially as we attempt to document vulnerable people and groups, which may inadvertently provide access to trauma or prompt retraumatization. As community archives are often created under the desire to be visible, known, represented—and celebrated—the concept of representational subversion reminds us that, alongside a person, family, or group's right to be remembered, is their equally important right to be forgotten or to forget. At the root of representational subversion are the hegemonic forces of white supremacy, which control or impact representation, even within community-based archives. Although representational subversion emerges, in part, because some individuals think their (hi)stories are not interesting enough to share or important enough to preserve, representational subversion can also become a strategy of survival or resistance against structural violence that is reproduced through archival initiatives. The right to be forgotten/unseen or to forget surfaces alongside the right to be remembered or visible.

Considering the tensions that our data reveal, understanding representational subversion demands complexity and nuance. Although driven by members of a minoritized community, community archives cannot escape the system of white supremacy. But they can offer counternarratives that can work to challenge dominant narratives and the many systems shaped by (and embedded with) structural whiteness. In doing so, are there consequences? The emergence of representational subversion suggests there are possibilities for harmful consequences due to the violence of white supremacy—through racism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, sexism, sizeism, transphobia, and so on. On a related note, one could argue that pursuing such inquiries that attempt to disrupt the status quo and its legacy of white supremacy makes archivists/archival scholars of color even more vulnerable and can materially impact their personal and professional lives. This analysis should prompt archivists to consider ensuring the agency of those who are disempowered as a guide for their modes of practice. It is important to understand that the desire to be absent or invisible in archival spaces is not because people want to erase themselves or the communities in which they find a sense of belonging. Rather, representational subversion emerges because oppressive forces impact the parameters of representation and documentation in what is deemed to have “enduring value”—what is important enough—without consideration of the people involved and their vulnerability. Whether prior to accessioning in the archival curation process or many years later in the life of an archival collection, we must keep those who are disempowered at the forefront of our efforts as we help to uphold their right to be visible, heard, and remembered with their right to forget or to be undiscoverable, silent, or forgotten as resistance.

Representational subversion highlights the nuances within the ways minoritized communities navigate their documentation and use their agency as a survival strategy for themselves and future generations. As Pang said in regard to representation, “It's a trap. It totally confirms all the things that you're supposed to say in the other question [of if your community's history is important].” Representational subversion captures the tensions between recognizing the value of documenting a community's history and possibly devaluing one's individual story, while also balancing privacy, cultural values, and respect. The erasure of people in media and society is reproduced in archives through dominant archival praxis and oppressive power structures. These structures are so entrenched in our everyday lives that we are not always aware of the ways in which we may perpetuate them. Because white supremacy is intricately threaded into the fabric of society and encompasses other dominant ideologies based on gender, class, sexuality, ability, and so on, people of color can also perpetuate it as a survival technique. As white supremacy is entrenched in all aspects of the society where we make complex decisions that impact our lives, including documenting our histories and sharing our narratives, then we—people from historically minoritized communities, including some of the coauthors of this article—are, indeed, trapped. We are trapped between our collective actions to make ourselves visible and our contributions known, and the desire to do what we can to ensure that the communities to which we belong and for which we care are not further harmed, exploited, or weaponized. At all times, there is power in visibility and representation, as there is vulnerability.

The tensions of representational subversion demonstrate this inescapable condition of navigating documentation and erasure. But this does not mean we cannot move forward. And moving forward through one trap leads to other intersecting traps, but this does not mean we simply accept the condition and make the decision not to move forward. The purpose of intentional, vigilant attention to actual or perceived representation in archives is to perpetually resist the embedded oppressive power of white dominance that asserts itself in moves toward representation, designed to keep us trapped. These findings resonate with other contemporary writing around being trapped—the anthology, Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, for example, illustrates the complexity of representation of trans identity and the violence that can accompany trans visibility.76 It is essential reading for future research that deeply interrogates representation of trans identity through a critical archival studies lens. This phenomenon provides further insight into the complex relationship of archives and minoritized communities, operating in an imperialistic, white supremacist society, regarding the right to be visible and known as part of history (or the right to be remembered) versus the right to privacy, to respect cultural values, and to prevent culture from being absorbed and exploited by the rest of society (or the right to forget).

As an archiving community, we continue to build on and learn from the knowledge of folx who power archives that serve minoritized communities and create tools and develop frameworks based on that knowledge. We do this to inform archival practice and theorizations, but also because folx from the same communities work in, navigate, and/or donate their personal collections to institutional archives. We cannot deny or ignore that white supremacy is at the root of archival studies, practices, and policies. Already underway are efforts in the field that shift attitudes toward archival work that contravenes the privileging of dominant (white) narratives; Black archivists and educators contribute critical thought and action toward restorative, reparative, and transformative approaches for paths forward through relentless archival traps.77 Building on these efforts, one of the important interventions of our research is a practical one, in which we are driven not simply by the production of knowledge—practices and pedagogy that reproduce and privilege the white, cis patriarchy and its legacy of racial violence in the United States—but to center people and communities toward the redistribution of power. This move further shifts our understanding around what we do and what we prioritize, and it demands that we create ruptures in which the self-determination of historically minoritized groups persists without opposition or control.

The authors would like to thank the interviewees and community-based archives that gave their time and knowledge to these research projects. Part of this research was made possible by support from an Institute of Museum and Library Services Early Career Grant RE-31-16-0117-16, UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies Dean's Diversity Initiative, and UCLA's Graduate Summer Research Mentorship program.


LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer+) denotes the open, ever-evolving spectrum of intersecting identities regarding gender, gender expression, and sexuality.


While focus group participants and individual interviewees shared their specific ethnicities, all of them also used “Asian American” as opposed to “Asian” to describe themselves.


Michelle Caswell, “Seeing Yourself in History: Community Archives and the Fight Against Symbolic Annihilation,” The Public Historian 36, no. 4 (2014): 27,


Please note the coauthors' statement on the use of the word “annihilation” in the Literature Review section on page 55 and the Discussion section on page 69.


Patricia Hill Collins, “The New Politics of Community,” American Sociological Review 75, no. 1 (2010): 8,


Elizabeth Crooke, “The Politics of Community Heritage: Motivations, Authority and Control,” International Journal of Heritage Studies 16, nos. 1–2 (2010): 19,


For example: Texas After Violence Project,; Esperanza Peace & Justice Center,; Visibility Project,; and the Cheyenne River Youth Project,


Caswell, “Seeing Yourself in History,” 31; Jimmy Zavala, Alda A. Migoni, Michelle Caswell, and Noah Geraci, “‘A Process Where We're All at the Table': Community Archives Challenging Dominant Modes of Archival Practice,” Archives and Manuscripts 45, no. 3 (2017): 202–15,


Terry Cook, “Evidence, Memory, Identity, and Community: Four Shifting Archival Paradigms,” Archival Science 10 (2013): 95–120,; Caswell et al., “‘To Be Able to Imagine Otherwise',” 1–22; Michelle Caswell, Joyce Gabiola, Gracen Brilmyer, Jimmy Zavala, and Marika Cifor, “Imagining Transformative Spaces: The Personal-Political Sites of Community Archives,” Archival Science 18, no. 1 (2018): 73–93,


Elisabeth Kaplan, “We Are What We Collect, We Collect What We Are: Archives and the Construction of Identity,” American Archivist 63, no. 1 (2000): 126–51,; Michelle Caswell, “Inventing New Archival Imaginaries: Theoretical Foundations for Identity-Based Community Archives,” in Identity Palimpsests: Ethnic Archiving in the U.S. and Canada (Sacramento: Litwin Books, 2014): 35–55.


Marcel Barriault, “Archiving the Queer and Queering the Archives: A Case Study of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA),” in Community Archives: The Shaping of Memory (London: Facet, 2009); Rebecka Sheffield, “The Bedside Table Archives: Archive Intervention and Lesbian Intimate Domestic Culture,” Radical History Review (October 2014),; Anthony Cocciolo, “Community Archives in the Digital Era: A Case from the LGBT Community,” Preservation, Digital Technology & Culture 45, no. 4 (2017),; Marta Boutchma, “Coming Out: Moving LGBT Archives from Private to Public Spaces,” The iJournal 2, no. 2 (2017): 1–8,


Marika Cifor, “Aligning Bodies: Collecting, Arranging, and Describing Hatred for a Critical Queer Archives,” Library Trends 64, no. 4 (2016): 756–75,; Laura Pratt, “The (Fat) Body and the Archive: Toward the Creation of a Fat Community Archive,” Fat Studies 2017: 1–13,


Maggie Schreiner and Claro de los Reyes, “Social Practice Artists in the Archive: Collaborative Strategies for Documentation,” Urban Library Journal 22, no. 2 (2016): 1–8.


Cook, “Evidence, Memory, Identity, and Community, 95–120; Caswell, “Seeing Yourself in History,” 31.


Anne J. Gilliland, “Afterword: In and Out of the Archives,” Archival Science 10, no. 3 (2011), 339, doi: 10.1007/s10502-010-9134-x.


Michel Rolph-Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon, 1995); Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook, “Archives, Records and Power: The Making of Modern Memory,” Archival Science 2 (2002): 1–19,; Wendy M. Duff and Verne Harris, “Stories and Names: Archival Description as Narrating Records and Constructing Meanings,” Archival Science 2 (2002): 263–85,; Rodney G. S. Carter, “Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence,” Archivaria 61 (Spring 2006): 215–33,; Randall Jimerson, “Embracing the Power of Archives,” American Archivist 69, no. 1 (2006): 19–32,; Caswell, “Seeing Yourself in History,” 32.


Collins, “The New Politics of Community,” 9.


Rolph-Trouillot, Silencing the Past.


Pluralizing the Archival Curriculum Group (PACG), “Educating for the Archival Multiverse,” American Archivist 74, no. 1 (2011): 69–101,


Carter, “Of Things Said and Unsaid,” 219.


Boutchma, “Coming Out: Moving LGBT Archives,” 1–8.


Boutchma, “Coming Out: Moving LGBT Archives,” 1–8.


Roderick A. Ferguson, The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); J. J. Ghaddar, “The Spectre in the Archive: Truth, Reconciliation, and Indigenous Archival Memory,” Archivaria 82 (Fall 2016): 3–26,


George Gerbner and Larry Gross, “Living with Television: The Violence Profile,” Journal of Communication 1976: 173,


Gerbner and Gross, “Living with Television,” 173.


Gerbner and Gross, “Living with Television,” 182.


Gaye Tuchman, “Introduction: The Symbolic Annihilation of Women by the Mass Media,” in Hearth and Home: Images of Women in the Mass Media, ed. Gaye Tuchman, Arlene Kaplan Daniels, and James Benét (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978): 3–38.


Caswell, “Seeing Yourself in History,” 26–37.


Schreiner and de los Reyes, “Social Practice Artists in the Archive”; Michelle Caswell, Alda A. Migoni, Noah Geraci, and Marika Cifor, “‘To Be Able to Imagine Otherwise': Community Archives and the Importance of Representation,” Archives and Records 38, no. 1 (2017): 1–20,; Zavala et al., “‘A Process Where We're All at the Table',” 202–15; Jennifer Bowers, Katherine Crowe, and Peggy Keeran, “‘If You Want the History of a White Man, You Go to the Library': Critiquing Our Legacy, Addressing Our Library Collections Gaps,” Collection Management 42, nos. 3–4 (2017): 159–79,; Pratt, “The (Fat) Body and the Archive,” 1–13; Caswell et al., “Imagining Transformative Spaces.”


Michelle Caswell, Marika Cifor, and Mario H. Ramirez, “‘To Suddenly Discover Yourself Existing': Uncovering the Impact of Community Archives,” American Archivist 79, no. 1 (2016): 56–81,


Schreiner and de los Reyes, “Social Practice Artists,” 1–8


Zavala et al., “‘A Process Where We're All at the Table',” 202–15.


Reiland Rabaka, “The Souls of White Folk: W. E. B. Du Bois's Critique of White Supremacy and Contributions to Critical White Studies,” Journal of African American Studies 11, no. 1 (2007): 3,


Anthony W. Dunbar, “Introducing Critical Race Theory to Archival Discourse: Getting the Conversation Started,” Archival Science 6, no. 1 (2006): 113,


Mario H. Ramirez, “Being Assumed Not to Be: A Critique of Whiteness as an Archival Imperative,” American Archivist 78, no. 2 (2015): 345,


April Hathcock, “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS,” In the Library with the Lead Pipe 2015,, captured at


Nicole A. Cooke, Miriam E. Sweeney, and Safiya Umoja Noble, “Social Justice as Topic and Tool: An Attempt to Transform an LIS Curriculum and Culture,” Library Quarterly 86, no. 1 (2016): 110,


Michelle Caswell, “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in Archives,” The Library Quarterly 87, no. 3 (2017): 222,


Sofia Y. Leung and Jorge Lopez McKnight, eds., Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies through Critical Race Theory (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2021).


W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Dover Publications, 1994).


Zeus Leonardo, “The Color of Supremacy: Beyond the Discourse of White Privilege,” Educational Philosophy and Theory 36, no. 2 (2004): 139,


Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106, no. 8 (1993): 1709–91,


Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” 1714


Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” 1709–91.


Hathcock, “White Librarianship in Blackface.”


Collins, “The New Politics of Community,” 7.


Collins, “The New Politics of Community,” 10.


The sites employ grassroots efforts to document their own histories; represent a range of minoritized identities (LGBTQ, Latino/a, and Asian American); occupy a range of spaces (pop-up events at scattered locations, storefronts in strip malls, and university libraries); and are governed by a variety of structures, from total autonomy as independent nonprofit organizations to integration within large public universities. Descriptions of the sites as well as the data collection methods have been published elsewhere. Last, note that the first author was not associated with Lambda Archives at the time of the research study and did not become the head archivist until 2020. Gracen Brilmyer et al., “Reciprocal Archival Imaginaries: The Shifting Boundaries of ‘Community' in Community Archives,” Archivaria 88 (Fall 2019): 6–48,


To protect the privacy of archives users (as enshrined by library codes of ethics and California law), the team did not directly recruit participants face-to-face as they used the archives. Instead, the staff of each community archives contacted potential research subjects, gauged their interest in participation, and asked for permission to provide their name and contact information to the PI.


Anselm Strauss and Juliet Corbin, Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques, 2nd ed. (Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 1990).


In casual company, for example, the first author would not refer to “representational subversion” to describe their own experiences even though this is the case, particularly with family.


Michael Okamura, Little Tokyo Historical Society, Los Angeles, CA, January 7, 2017.


Cindy Abrams, Little Tokyo Historical Society, Los Angeles, CA, January 7, 2017.


Shelly Niimi, Little Tokyo Historical Society, Los Angeles, CA, March 4, 2017.


Marcus Mizushima, Little Tokyo Historical Society, Los Angeles, CA, March 4, 2017.


Kevin Duc Pham, Southeast Asian Archive, University of California, Irvine, CA, February 3, 2017.


Okamura, Little Tokyo Historical Society, January 7, 2017.


Nimii, Little Tokyo Historical Society, March 4, 2017.


Nimii, Little Tokyo Historical Society, March 4, 2017.


Nimii, Little Tokyo Historical Society, March 4, 2017.


Nimii, Little Tokyo Historical Society, March 4, 2017.


Kristen Hayashi, Little Tokyo Historical Society, Los Angeles, CA, January 7, 2017.


Rosa Peña, La Historia Society, El Monte, CA, February 18, 2017.


Rosa Peña, La Historia Society, El Monte, CA, February 18, 2017.


Julie Cho, Southeast Asian Archive, University of California, Irvine, CA, February 3, 2017.


Julie Cho, Southeast Asian Archive, University of California, Irvine, CA, February 3, 2017.


Koomah, Addie Tsai, and T. Le, Focus Group, Houston, TX, August 18, 2017. See also Joyce Gabiola, “On (En)countering the Archival Sidekick,” in Q&A: Voices from Queer Asian North America, ed. Martin F. Manalansan IV, Alice Y. Hom, and Kale Bantigue Fajardo (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2021).


Melanie Pang, Individual Interview, Houston, TX, August 21, 2017.


Melanie Pang, Individual Interview, Houston, TX, August 21, 2017.


Melanie Pang, Individual Interview, Houston, TX, August 21, 2017.


Bill Watanabe, Little Tokyo Historical Society, January 7, 2017.


Addie Tsai, Focus Group, Houston, TX, August 18, 2017.


To note, Kaminski is a white (cis man) person in contrast to all other interviewees quoted being people of color. Charles Kaminski, Lambda Archives, San Diego, CA, February 5, 2017.


Carter, “Of Things Said and Unsaid,” 219.


Rabaka, “The Souls of White Folk: W. E. B. Du Bois's Critique,” 8.


Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, ed. Tourmaline, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017).


Berry, Williams, Drake, Sutherland, and Hughes Watkins, for example, have been doing reparative work that intervenes dominant ways of doing in archives. Consider the latest article from Dorothy J. Berry, “The House Archives Built,” up//root 2021,, captured at; Stacie M. Williams and Jarrett M. Drake, “Power to the People: Documenting Police Violence in Cleveland,” in “Critical Archival Studies,” ed. Michelle Caswell, Ricardo Punzalan, and T-Kay Sangwand, special issue, Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1, no. 2 (2017),; Tonia Sutherland, “Archival Amnesty: In Search of Black American Transitional and Restorative Justice,” in “Critical Archival Studies”; Lae'l Hughes Watkins, “Moving Toward a Reparative Archive: A Roadmap for a Holistic Approach to Disrupting Homogenous Histories in Academic Repositories and Creating Inclusive Spaces for Marginalized Voices,” Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies 5, no. 1 (2018),

Author notes

Joyce Gabiola is an archivist who produces knowledge and proactively nurtures ways of doing toward preventing or mitigating potential harms concerning all aspects of archival work and leadership. Their research and intentional practice are largely informed by their lived experiences, the interventions of archivists and other information practitioners of color, and the everyday challenges that emerge while navigating relationships with direct beneficiaries of whiteness. Their essay, “On (En)countering the Archival Sidekick,” is published in the anthology Q&A: Voices from Queer Asian North America (Temple University Press, 2021). Gabiola is also one of the founding editors of up//root, a We Here publication.

Gracen Brilmyer, PhD, is an assistant professor in the School of Information Studies at McGill University and the director of the Disability Archives Lab ( Their research lies at the intersection of disability studies and archival studies, where they investigate the ways in which disabled people use, experience, and understand themselves through archives as well as how to tell histories of disability when there is little or no archival evidence. Their writing on disability history and archival methodologies has been featured in publications such as The Journal of Feminist Scholarship and Archival Science.

Michelle Caswell, PhD, is chair of the Department of Information Studies and an associate professor of archival studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Caswell directs a team of students at UCLA's Community Archives Lab ( In 2008, together with Samip Mallick, Caswell cofounded the South Asian American Digital Archive (, an online repository that documents and provides access to the stories of South Asian Americans. She is the author of the books Urgent Archives: Enacting Liberatory Memory Work (Routledge Press, 2021) and Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory and the Photographic Record in Cambodia (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), as well as more than forty peer-reviewed articles in critical archival studies.

Jimmy Zavala is the teaching and learning librarian for UCLA Library Special Collections. Prior to joining UCLA, Zavala was the project coordinator librarian for Transforming Knowledge, Transforming Libraries, a three-year IMLS-funded research project analyzing the intersection of ethnic studies and community archives at UC Irvine. He received his MLIS from UCLA and also holds a BA in Latin American studies and an MA in history from California State University, Los Angeles.