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.

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2 Responses to Who should an APA Heritage Month celebration be aimed at?

  1. Reagan Le says:

    You’ve always mentioned your blog on Facebook, but I haven’t had the chance to check it out until now!!! Great stuff you got going on!!! I personally have always been a little iffy about how APA Heritage Month is celebrated…. You asked the question, “Who should an APA Heritage Month celebration be aimed at?” That’s a hard question to answer… APAs? The public at large? Let’s break down these events. For the most part they are cultural events featuring cultural performances and cultural foods. Personally, these forms of cultural events are becoming a form of multicultural tourism for white people or for the “unexposed.” They come expecting exotic forms of entertainment and food such as hula dancing, martial arts, sushi, etc. This is their simplistic way of exposing themselves and their family members to “other” cultures and people. They then typically leave these multicultural tourist attractions learning/thinking: wow, those half naked islanders are amazing dancers… I better be careful of those Asian kung-fu fighters… How do people eat raw food???
    I do believe there are some educational values in these events, but there are so many of these kinds of events and we need to move beyond exotifying our cultures and people for entertainment purposes. I don’t believe the quality of the event should be judged by how widespread or how well it’s attended by the public, but it should be judged by what people get out of it. Besides learning a new dance or eating unusual foods, did they truly learned something new? Did they understand the importance or history of those dances? The food? These events need to evolve and take people beyond the surface of what they see, hear, feel, and taste.
    We need to see more of Here & Now educating us through their theater performance… Yellow Rage breaking stereotypes through spoken words… intriguing forum discussions based on topics off of your blog… educational/developmental workshops by Erin… musical talents such a Wendy Woo, Vienna Teng, Magdelan Hsu-li, Ken Oak Band, etc… It should be more than a showcase, but more of a learning/developing experience of what we have done, what we do, and what we can do as not only Asians, but as Asian/Pacific Americans.
    So, I believe the real question should be why we are celebrating APA Heritage Month and not who we should cater to. Well those are just some of my incoherent thoughts… In any case, do keep up your amazing work and contributions to the APA community, and best of luck with your busy schedule coming up… I’m so sad that I missed the Miss Asian American Colorado and will miss JANMNC!!!

  2. Gil Asakawa says:

    Wow, Reagan, thanks for the kind words! You’re very missed in Colorado, for bringing some of those artists you mention, and for your support of the APA community. Coe back and visit when you can, man!

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