Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | apa heritage month
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Yul Kwon, winner of Survivor: Cook Island, told stories about the show when he spoke at the Coors APA Heritage Month event. Call him Cool Yul. If you're a fan of "Survivor," you know who Yul Kwon is. He's the Korean American attorney who won the "Cook Island" season (season 13), helping to chip away at the myth that Asian men are meek and mild-mannered geeks. He was a good student, all right, and he works hard, so he fulfills the "model minority" stereotype in those ways. But he's also buff, handsome, an eloquent speaker (even though he says he hates public speaking) an Asian American activist and just plain cool. Kwon was in Colorado yesterday, as the main speaker for an APA Heritage Month celebration organized by the MillerCoors Asian Network, the beer-maker based in Golden just west of Denver. Also on the bill were traditional Filipino dances by members of the Filipino American Community of Colorado, and terrific Filipino food by local chef Leah Eveleigh's Tropical Grill Catering. The turnout was smaller than it should have been -- shame on the local Asian American community for not coming out to support this kind of event, which was free of charge and featured a nationally-known celebrity as a draw. But the crowd that was there about half Asian descent, and mostly curious Coors employees and their families, was appreciative of Kwon's speech, and the performances and food. I thought Kwon's speech was especially notable. He'd been to Denver before, last year during the Democratic National Convention, to urge Asian Americans to register to vote. He's still passionate about having AAPIs involved in politics, but he's not so interested in running for office himself, as he explained to a fan who asked. But his speech was all about his experiences growing up Asian in America, and how important it is for our future to have AAPIs to look up to as role models. He explained how he grew up without seeing anyone who looked like him on TV or in movies, except people who were subservient, foreign and exotic, or at the other end of the scale, martial arts masters.

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.