Lisa Sasaki is the director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Previously she was the director of the Audience and Civic Engagement Center at the Oakland Museum of California and the director of program development at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Before participating in a Zócalo/Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County event, “Is the Digital Age Making Museums Obsolete?,” Sasaki spoke with Zócalo in the green room about the museum she admires most, her favorite meal, and what she misses about Oakland.
What do you miss most about Oakland?
I miss the people there. People from Oakland are probably the nicest, most caring people who are not only really excited about their community and the work that they’re doing, but are really looking for ways to make their neighborhoods better. And I think if we had more communities like that it would be really great. So that’s what I miss most, the people.
What is your favorite meal?
Anything that has Mexican food in it. I grew up in Colorado, and so whether it’s Tex Mex—or, since I also lived in Southern California—anything from tacos to chile verde would be my favorite meal.
What do you miss most about Colorado?
I miss my family. I have a huge extended family that lives in Colorado. My mother and father are still there, and I miss them.
What was the first museum you ever visited?
The first museum that I can remember visiting would have to be the Denver Art of Museum. I grew up just outside of Denver in Wheat Ridge, and I remember from the time that I was really small that we would take the bus and go down to downtown Denver to see the art museum.
What museum, other than your own, do you admire most?
Oh, I have so many. It’s kind of like trying to ask who’s your favorite child. So, I have to say that one that will always be near and dear to my heart—and I could spend hours there—would be the Met in New York City. I think just because the first time I went there, I was in awe. It’s one of the reasons why I fell in love with museums to begin with.
If you turned on your TV now, what channel would most likely be on?
HGTV. I love the fact that everything always has a happy ending (usually) with the shows. It’s a quick fix to see something that is both aesthetically pleasing in the end with the makeovers that happen there, and something that is so far away from what I do in my day-to-day life. It’s nice to have that little bit of an escape. I wish I could say the History Channel or maybe the Smithsonian Channel, but then I wouldn’t be being truthful.
What was your greatest vacation?
My greatest vacation was going to Italy, and it only happened about two years ago. It’s been one of the places I’ve always wanted to visit, and it just so happened that on my birthday, we were in Venice … which was an amazing experience. And the food is really good.
What teacher changed your life?
Catherine Adams. She was my Montessori school teacher. And she was the one who read out loud to us as one of our activities in elementary school. She gave me my love of reading and being able to learn through stories that were so far out of my reality.
What is the last book you read?
The last book I read—and I’m slightly embarrassed to say this because I’m really behind the times—was Crazy Rich Asians. And the reason that I read it was because the movie was coming out, and I realized that unlike everybody across the world I hadn’t read Kevin Kwan’s book yet, so I wanted to be sure to grab it.
What’s the best thing about working at a Smithsonian institution?
The best thing about working at the Smithsonian is that everybody brings a unique understanding of what the scope and scale of the Smithsonian is. And it’s not every day that you can go into work with people who work in air and space, and natural history, and American art, and so many other topics that the Smithsonian covers. Every day I’m learning something new.
Who was the last actor or actress who made you swoon?
Oh, that is a hard one. I know there are many swoon worthy people but there’s not one who’s easily coming to mind. … I could say who I’ve heard others say is swoon worthy, which is Jason Momoa. He’s been hugely popular, and I’m sure I swooned a little with that one.