What Does It Mean to Be American?

Get Up Close to Shimomura Crossing the Delaware

By Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Roger Shimomura combines American culture with Asian traditions to create artworks that challenge Asian stereotypes and generate thought-provoking questions about racial and cultural identity.

What if George Washington were Japanese American?

With this thought, Shimomura created Shimomura Crossing the Delaware.

Shimomura Crossing the Delaware by Roger ShimomuraSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Shimomura’s painting is a play on Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel LeutzeThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

How do the different elements in the portrait come together to tell a story? As you explore, consider the setting, clothing, pose, facial expressions, and objects.

Shimomura takes the place of America’s Founding Father, George Washington, and adapts his iconic pose.

He replaces Washington’s colonial troops with Japanese samurai warriors.

Shimomura remakes the body of water they cross to resemble San Francisco Harbor, with Angel Island (the processing center for Asian immigrants) in the background.

The work echoes the style and compositional format of Katsushika Hokusai’s iconic woodblock prints.

Why might the artist have arranged the sitters in these particular poses?

Shimomura combines the traditional “look” of Japanese culture and American material culture to draw our attention to the unconscious stereotypes that are all too often overlooked.

During World War II, Shimomura and his family were imprisoned at a camp in Idaho, as a result of widespread xenophobia.

Shimomura's art explores the complexities of American cultural identity and the challenges faced by those of Asian descent in the United States.

How are Americanism and patriotism reflected in this portrait? Why would the artist include these elements?

Shimomura presents a platform to discuss Americanism and patriotism and how these two “isms” affect the lives of people across racial and ethnic lines.

Shimomura reflects, “If my work is seen as raising more questions than it answers, I’d be pleased, because I’m not sure what those answers are.”

What new questions do you have after looking at this portrait?

Shimomura Crossing the Delaware by Roger ShimomuraSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Credits: Story

Shimomura Crossing the Delaware by Roger Shimomura, acrylic on canvas, 2010. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Raymond L. Ocampo Jr., Sandra Oleksy Ocampo, and Robert P. Ocampo. © Courtesy of Roger Shimomura

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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