Organizations around Spokane are gearing up for the 32nd annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, which celebrates the cultures and history of people of Asian, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian descent.
According to the 2020 census, over 24 million Americans identify as Asian in the United States.
Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have etched their names in modern American history books. When Vice President Kamala Harris was sworn in last January, she became the first woman of Black and Asian descent to hold the position.
Harris’ mother is Indian, and her father is Jamaican. Last summer, Sunisa “Suni” Lee became the first Hmong-American gymnast for Team USA during the Tokyo Olympics. Lee is also the first Asian American woman to win gold in the all-around. The Hmong are an ethnic group originally from Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and China.
This year’s local heritage celebrations feature art, festivities and discussions around the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander identities.
But some of the events will take on a serious tone.
In collaboration with the Spokane Community Against Racism, the Spokane Asian Pacific Island Coalition will host meetings about discrimination and other issues that plague the Asian diaspora.
The centerpiece and longest of the local celebrations is “Hidden In Plain Sight: A Visual Anthology on the Complexities of Asian Identities,” an exhibition that runs from Monday to May 27. Sponsored by local art organization Terrain, the exhibition will run alongside an opening reception and film screening at the Terrain Gallery on May 6.
The film is supported by Eastern Washington University’s Women’s and Gender Education Center, which will also host a reception for the film on May 16.
Two other discussion-based events will take place May 18 in Spokane Valley, along with a peer group discussion about the Model Minority Myth, a perception that Asian immigrants are often model citizens through assimilation and racist stereotypes of intelligence and modesty.
“Those two projects are about how society and racism have shaped our identities,” said Ryann Louie, APIC’s local co-director. “For us, it was really important to create a setting that it can be more contemplative and thoughtful, and seeing people as they want to be seen. ”
Later in the month is the second-annual AANHPI Heritage Day on May 14 at Riverfront Park.
The event is expected to attract thousands. Along with family-fun games and petting zoos, traditional displays such as a Hawaiian luau and performances from Ukestra Spokane, an Inland Northwest ukulele group, are expected.
Food, a popular commodity of Asian culture, is another major aspect of the heritage day. Patrons can pre-purchase the VIP plate for $35, which includes lechon, a Filipino roasted pig dish, shoyu chicken, tropical macaroni salad, kimchi rice and haupia, a Hawaiian coconut pudding.
Food trucks will also provide tastes of cultures. Nicholas DeCaro, who goes by Chef Sin’ in the culinary world, is excited to present fusions of culture through his food truck, Island Style Food. Sin’ is short for “sindålu,” meaning warrior in the Chamarro language.
DeCaro looks forward to working with fellow chefs to represent the “broad, diverse cultural heritage within one event.” He is of Chamarro, Filipino, Chinese and Italian descent. He found his love for food in his parents’ former Italian restaurant, DeCaro’s Little Italy.
“I get to represent my culture, my heritage and share that joy and love within the community,” DeCaro said. “Oftentimes, when people hear ‘Pacific Islander,’ they immediately think of Hawaii and a lot of us get forgotten. While we have a lot of similarities, we have our own individual identities and foods of that nature. It’s really cool that we all get to celebrate it.”
The month was originally named Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week in May 1978 by President Jimmy Carter to commemorate Japanese immigrants who arrived to America on May 7, 1843, and Chinese railroad workers who completed the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, in Promontory, Utah. Spokane also benefitted from the work of Chinese railroad workers, who arrived in the city in the mid-1800s.
The month originally did not address the Native Hawaiians of the Asian diaspora.
Louie hopes the monthlong holiday includes all aspects of the Asian identity, with a goal of raising awareness around all groups.
“Using the term ‘AAPI’ erases the Native Hawaiian identity,” Louie said. “Most of the groups are Asian-led and a lot of funding goes to Asian organizations, and there isn’t a lot of organizations that are actively fighting for our own identities and their own liberations and trying to do something different that is against the status quo.”
While the month is packed with experiences and discussions of the Asian diaspora, Louie hopes the events can serve as the foundation of ongoing solidarity. For them, patrons attending the art exhibitions could lead to current advocacy for legislation that can stop anti-Asian hate around the nation, which has risen since the pandemic.
If people can attend events expressing the lighthearted joy of the Asian experiences, they can also appear for protests, marches and calls to action to express full acts of solidarity. Louie referred to the USPS stamps for Lunar New Year, citing that USPS has not openly advocated for demands from the Asian community.
“Having visibility is always important, but when the narrative around Asian people is always, ‘Oh look at the cultural dance, look at the food,’ you only see us as one thing,” Louie said. “And when cultural month ends, then what? Are you going to vote to help us? Are you going to participate in our active movements to help the community?”