Last Saturday, we had a mini Cinco de Mayo fiesta with a couple of friends, lots of margaritas, and chile rellenos fried up in the wok. I spent most of Sunday weeding in the yard to work off the calories. As I was clearing out the clover to make room for chiles and Viet herbs, I started thinking about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which spans this entire month.
The official celebration has been around since 1978, when Congress and President Jimmy Carter designated it. What started out as a week-long celebration became a month-long celebration in 1992, under President George H.W. Bush. (The term “Asian Pacific American,” (APA) is meant to include Pacific Islanders, who are Asian too.)
That said, I went online to the Library of Congress website and found and the photo at the top of this post of Tom Kobayashi, taken by photographer Ansel Adams in 1943, at the WWII Manzanar Japanese internment camp. Adams did a breathtaking series on Manzanar to highlight people’s lives there.
In a Flickr gallery of historic photos, provided by US National Archives, was this image of two girls waiting to board an evacuation bus headed to one of the camps:
Why May? I imagine that there were only certain months available. But selecting the month technically commemorates the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and marks the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Most of the people who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants. (Note that Filipinos had been in what’s now the U.S. since the 16th century, though there wasn’t mass migration from the Philippines until centuries later. Vietnamese people are total newcomers!)
Commemorative months such as this one are meant to draw public attention to the diversity of America. They are not meant to be downers, but rather reminders of our nation’s complex history and social fabric.
Look around and you may notice a few Asian American or Asian-themed events going on this month. Chances are, food is involved. In my small corner of the world, I'm scheduled for the following APA Heritage Month activities:
- May 12, 1-2pm, Macy’s San Jose (Valley Fair): An Asian Tofu cooking demo, tasting of artisan tofu, and book signing. Macy’s department stores are doing free food events in various locations throughout the month. My friend Bee Yinn Low will be doing a similar event at the South Coast Plaza Macy’s in Orange County on Saturday too. Check your local Macy’s event calendar.
- May 19, 11:30-noon, San Francisco Asian Heritage Street Celebration: I’m demoing a very cool recipe from the tofu book. The free event is held in the Little Saigon area of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Demos run from 11 to 3pm, I believe. The chef lineup includes renowned chef and author Martin Yan and restaurateur/chef Charles Phan. If you’re in the Bay Area, come on down.
Public events like the SF street celebration will include food vendors and food trucks. They’re great opportunities for eating – kind of like an Asian night market that happens in the day.
There’s usually dance or music performances, special talks, and art too. To see what’s going on in your community, search for: Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month 2012 [insert your location]. Or, type: Asian American Festival 2012 [insert your location].
Many of these events are run by volunteer non-profits so the information may be spotty. But if you’re in the neighborhood, why not check them out? Here are a few that I found online:
- New York: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Festival, May 12, 11am-5pm, DUMBO Brooklyn (They mention food but there’s no listing of participants. This event is in its 33rd year!)
- Houston: Lots going on monthly so check the calendar of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Association (linked via "Houston")
- Des Moines, Iowa: CelebrAsian, May 12, 10am-8pm, State Capitol Complex (You gotta love Iowa's spirit and gusto for this event, which is on its 10th year.)
- Washington, DC: Fiesta Asia, May 19, Street Festival (Check the events calendar for information on this event and others that the Asia Heritage Foundation organizes. It’s a little confusing and there’s spotty information provided.)
- Public Television: If you can't attend an event, tune in to public television. Our Bay Area KQED has a full schedule of Asian-oriented programming.
On Viet World Kitchen, we think about Asian food and culture all the time. But in May, it seems to come on extra strong. If you can, take it all in and celebrate! ^_^
If you have an Asian American Heritage Month event to report, do it right in the comment section below!