May is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month and the Seattle community is invited to celebrate and experience Asian and Pacific Islander cultural traditions on Sunday, May 1 from 11:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Seattle Center Armory.
The Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month Celebration welcomes everyone to explore and experience the multifaceted cultural roots of Asia and the Pacific Islands through live performances, traditional food, and hands-on activities.
For Alan Sugiyama, the executive director emeritus of the Executive Development Institute (EDI), the festival is not only a celebration but a way to raise awareness and cultural sensitivity, as well as a way to showcase cultural pride.
“I don’t see quite the understanding of Asian culture, other than in South Seattle where there is a huge population of Asians and minorities,” Sugiyama said. “We’re going to start losing some of that. That’s why we need to continue to showcase our culture and our talents.”
Peter Tsai, the chairperson of API Heritage Month and the organizer of the festival, said that the celebration this year is also mainly about showing what young Asians and young Pacific Islanders are doing for their communities.
“In the 1970s, the Asian student associations in colleges were interested in not just showcasing one specific group,” Tsai said. “So it’s not just about the cultural side but the involvement of young people in the community.”
Celebrations focused on Asian heritage and culture started in 1972 at local colleges, coordinated by Asian student-led groups, according to Sugiyama. He said there are some similarities between the API Heritage Celebration and the Asian American Day at the University of Washington he attended as a student in 1973.
“We wanted something Asian-centric, but we still wanted to be able to explore our identity as Asian Americans,” Sugiyama said. “Most people don’t know the difference between Asians, whether you’re Chinese or Vietnamese, which is why we started the Asian American Day movement.”
While performers like the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill Team and taiko drummers are veterans at the festival, a Vietnamese fashion show hosted by Vuu’s Beauty School and Friends is making its debut this year. Another new addition to this year’s festival is a display of 10 countries arranged by the Asian Pacific Cultural Center in Tacoma, which will provide colorful information about both Micronesian and Asian countries.
For Tsai, the most memorable part about the API Heritage Month Celebration is how the community responds to their efforts in putting the event together.
“The large groups that perform—the drill team, the Tahitian dancers and hula dancers are lively—the larger groups are really the ones that capture the whole crowd,” Tsai said. “I think it’s most enjoyable when you have large groups that are energetic, and the crowd is more emotive.”
A returning fan-favorite event is the Celebrity Hum Bow eating contest. This year, there are eight participants: Fred Brown (former Seattle SuperSonic basketball player), Ana Mari Cauce (president of the University of Washington), Enrique Cerna (director of community partnerships and host at KCTS 9), Siemny Kim (KIRO-TV anchor/reporter), Jerry Lee (chairman of Mulvanny G2 Architects), Jenette Ramos (vice-president and general manager of Boeing Fabrication), Eddie Rye Jr. (host of Urban Forum Northwest), and Sharon Tomiko Santos (Washington State Representative of the 37th District).
“[The API Heritage Month Celebration] showcases our community’s diversity and talent to a wider population and geography beyond the International District/Chinatown,” said Willon Lew, who is a second generation Chinese American born and raised in Seattle and a board member at large of OCA—Greater Seattle. “It also educates the audience of the numerous cultures within the API community. We are very different, but with similarities as Asian Americans.”
For more information, visit http://apiheritage.com.