17 May Who should an APA Heritage Month celebration be aimed at?
We just snuck out after a couple of hours of Denver’s annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration, an event sponsored by Colorado’s APA umbrella organization, Asian Roundtable. This free event has been going on for over a decade, and it’s held every May in a community auditorium at the Well Fargo Bank building in downtown Denver.
The Asian Roundtable represents two dozen APA organizations and for-profit companies as well as some individuals. Its member organizations sponsor the event, which runs from 11 am-4pm on a Saturday, kicking off with a buffet and then featuring several hours of performances.
I was involved with this event when I was the president of the Mile-Hi chapter of the JACL, almost 10 years ago. Back then, I appreciated the event because it brought Asian communities together to learn from each other. I was surprised at the time that Asians knew so little about each other’s cultures. One year the JACL brought some basic sushi for people to taste, and people kept asking me, “What is that?” (Sushi, or wasabi.) “What’s the soy sauce for?” (The sushi.) “What does this taste like?” (Try it and see, lady.)
Then it struck me — Asians are so tribal and insulated from each other, that they don’t know anything about the other Asian cultures. I admit, I didn’t exactly grow up eating Filipino or Thai or Vietnamese food. But I’ve embraced all those cuisines, and more, every chance I get. Many Asians (especially older Asians) don’t do this.
So, this event is an annual chance to check in, see performances and try food from other cultures.
The problem is, the Roundtable hasn’t evolved the event much in 10 years. There are fewer performers than there used to be, and though the food was OK we noticed the sushi was supplied by the same Chinese buffet that served some of the other food. (Not to gripe too much — I’ve had my share of sushi at Chinese buffets, and I can be pretty happy with it.)
Then it occurred to me that the event didn’t feel satisfying to me because it was still, 10 years later, just Asians celebrating APA Heritage Month with other Asians. It’s time, I think, for this group to follow the examples of a couple of other high-profile local events, the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival and the Boulder Asian Festival, and start showing off the myriad APA communities not just to each other, but to the public at large. Stop mingling with the same group of community leaders and a couple-hundred spectators every May, and make a big splash to the “mainstream” (non-Asian) world.
That’s when they’ll accomplish some real education.