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12 Ways to Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Asian Pacific Hertage Month

May 23, 2020

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Each year, we take time to recognize the history, culture and achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) during this month. According to the 2017 Census, there are 22.2 million Asian Americans in the U.S., which is an 18% increase from 2010, making Asian Americans the fastest growing ethnic community in the country. According to the 2018 American Community Survey, Iowa’s Asian population is 87,708 making up 2.7% of the state’s population. Check out the State Data Center info for more detail stats on Asian Americans in the State of Iowa.

CelebrAsian in Downtown DSM

Like many aspects of Iowa, those unfamiliar with our state might be surprised that we have an amazing Asian cultural festival right here in Downtown Des Moines (DSM) in the form of CelebrAsian. This event brings the diverse populations from the Asian and Pacific Islander communities in Iowa together and has featured “villages” from a wide range of ethnicities. These include, Cambodian, Chinese, Laotian, Thai, Hmong, Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian, Indian, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Filipino and Tai Dam. Every year, more than 60,000 people attend this free, family-friendly event to enjoy food and entertainment from the Asian communities in Iowa.

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, this year’s CelebrAsian has been postponed to protect the safety of our visitors, volunteers and vendors. We know that this event has become a favorite way for Iowans to kick off their summer and explore Asian cultures. With that in mind, here are 12 ways you can still celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and support Asian communities in Iowa.

Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

1. Explore AAPI History

The history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is the core of this observance. PBS has a great documentary series about the history of identity, contributions and challenges experienced by Asian Americans. If you prefer a book, check out Erika Lee’s “The Making of Asian America: A History.”

Asian Gardens2. Visit the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens

These Gardens in Downtown DSM recognize the contributions that Asian Americans have made to Iowa and serve as a monument honoring Robert D. Ray (1928 – 2018) for his remarkable leadership and humanitarian outreach to welcome and support Asian Americans. Photo provided by the Des Moines Public Art Foundation.

3. Try Origami

COVID-19 has caused the sale of jigsaw puzzles to surge, so why not try the calming Japanese art of paper folding? Visit Origami.me to learn about the history of the most famous paper model, the crane, and make your own.

4. Make an Asian Dish

If you’re Asian, this is an easy one. Ask a family member for a recipe or share one of your own on social media. Just because CelebrAsian is postponed, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on some great food. If you don’t know a recipe and need some inspiration, check out this Pinterest board.

5. Get Takeout from Your Favorite Restaurant or Try Something New

Support local restaurants and buy some takeout. If you have been ordering from the same places, consider expanding and trying something new.

6. Read a Book with Connections to Asian or Pacific Islander Culture

As we continue to practice social distancing, it is a perfect time to reflect with a good book. The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center has a great list of books to learn about the experiences of Asian Americans.

7. Watch a Movie Produced by an Asian Creator

Have you seen Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s Academy Award winning movie “Parasite” yet? You should. It’s on Hulu. You can stop reading this article and watch it right now — I won’t even be mad. In addition to other recent amazing Korean movies like “Burning” and “Train to Busan,” there are Hollywood films directed by Asian filmmakers like “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Farewell,” and “Searching.” The theater at Jordan Creek Town Center regularly plays Bollywood movies, but for social distancing there are a bunch of movies from Indian creators on Netflix.

8. Make Bubble Tea at Home

If you are missing this awesome beverage, you can check out these three bubble tea recipes to make your own.

White Ghost Sculpture9. Discover Art from an Asian Artist

Support a local Asian artist by purchasing their work or check out some of the internationally renowned artworks in Iowa, including Yoshitomo Nara’s “White Ghost” at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. You can also check out resources online. The National Gallery of Art has put together a Pinterest board of artwork from Asian Americans. Photo provided by the Des Moines Art Center of Yoshitomo Nara’s “White Ghost” at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.

10. Support Your Community

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stressful time for all of us. We have seen increased xenophobia and harassment of members of our Asian communities. Nationally, with all the time being spent at home, we see no shortage of misinformation and conspiracy theories shared on social media. The stress of this situation does not justify racism. There are plenty of stereotypes about our state, but as Iowans we know our community as a whole is kind and supportive. Remember these values and speak up when you see or hear anti-Asian sentiments.

11. Donate to Support the Iowa Asian Alliance

CelebrAsian is the Iowa Asian Alliance’s signature event and the heart of the organization. The festival unites our diverse communities for a common goal. While we cannot hold a festival as in years past, we will continue to host activities and programs to celebrate our Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Donate to show your support or volunteer to join in on the fun.

12. Follow the Iowa Asian Alliance on Facebook

IAA CookoffLike the Iowa Asian Alliance’s page on Facebook and follow them to learn more. Photo provided by the Iowa Asian Alliance.

Downtown Des Moines (DSM) is a growing, vibrant community that offers the energy, sophistication, housing and attractions of a burgeoning city with a brilliant future. It’s also easy to visit with plentiful and affordable street and ramp parking options.

Header image provided by the Iowa Asian Alliance.

Tim Greene

Tim Greene is the volunteer director for Iowa Asian Alliance's CelebrAsian.