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Writing Asian American and Pacific Islander Women Back into History with Wikipedia

Judi Oyama crouched while riding a skateboard

Judi Oyama for Santa Cruz Skateboards, 1970s. Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

By Kelly Doyle, open knowledge coordinator for the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, Because of Her Story


How can we ensure more Asian American and Pacific Islander women are well known? On May 18, the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative and Asian Pacific American Center hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. This event, entitled WikiAPA She/They Edition, focused on increasing the representation of women, nonbinary people, and transgender people in the AAPI community on Wikipedia.

With an average of 18 billion page views per month, Wikipedia is the 13th most visited website globally. The reach and readership of Wikipedia allows for free access to information. Although Wikipedia is often the first place people go to search for well-sourced information, it still has gaps.

Less than 19% of biographies on Wikipedia English are about women and less than 10% of editors identify as women. These content and volunteer gender gaps on Wikipedia mean that many notable women and topic areas are not reflected on the website. Adding and improving information about women and underrepresented groups on Wikipedia helps increase visibility online almost instantly. Being included on Wikipedia ensures that important women and topics are easier to discover.

Wikipedia edit-a-thons are events where attendees learn the basics about Wikipedia and how to edit articles. Experienced Wikipedia editors guide you through how to contribute to the site and answer questions. When we host an edit-a-thon, archivists and curators from across the Smithsonian help shape each event. They provide insight into women's history topics that need more coverage on Wikipedia. They offer names for our editing worklist for the event. We also use Smithsonian collections to source articles and provide free use images.

In preparing for this event, our Asian Pacific American Center team, Andrew Lih (Wikimedian at Large, Smithsonian Institution), and I found several key gaps in how AAPI history is represented on Wikipedia. We realized that Pacific Islanders are not well-represented on Wikipedia. Our editing worklist for the event included creating an article about Hawaiian hula performer and teacher Emma Farden Sharpe. She was integral in leading the cultural landscape of Maui, and hula festivals have been named and held in her honor on the island.

At the edit-a-thon, we added 2,590 words to Wikipedia within this topic area. We created new articles about Sharpe, journalist Prabjot (PJ) Randhawa, and athlete Judi Oyama.

Judi Oyama crouched while riding a skateboard
Judi Oyama for Santa Cruz Skateboards, 1970s. Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Oyama is an award-winning professional skateboarder who has set many records. She became the first woman to win the N-Men Icon Award. Her contributions are represented in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History's collections. Despite Oyama's overwhelming contributions to skateboarding, she did not have a Wikipedia article until our edit-a-thon. Now that her article is live on Wikipedia, we have opened the door for future collaboration. Other editors can update and improve her profile to reflect further facets of Oyama's life and career.

There is still work to do to create gender and race-based equity on Wikipedia, and each edit-a-thon brings us closer to that vision.

Will you join us? We will host our next women's history Wikipedia edit-a-thon on July 27 at 1:00 p.m. ET. In collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, we will edit Wikipedia to improve representation around Black women in food history. You can register now to let us know you will join.

 to learn about upcoming edit-a-thons and other events.

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Kelly Doyle is the open knowledge coordinator for the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative. Doyle works to alleviate the gender gaps on the Wikimedia platforms.

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