An eventful Asian Heritage Month

Photo courtesy of ExplorAsian

Celebrating North America’s Asian Heritage, a plethora of Asia-related events are on offer this month ranging from art, music, literature, to talks and workshops.

ExplorASIAN Festival, being the main festival in town, alone is presenting a program of more than 60 virtual and in-person events for the public.

“We are really happy to see so many of the community partners getting right back at it as soon as we are organizing this year,” says Jasper Yip, Executive Director of Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society. Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society(VAHMS) is the main organizer behind the ExplorASIAN Festival.

The festival hosted a memorable opening ceremony on April 30 at SFU Harbour Centre, with speakers including the Mayor of Vancouver, the Vancouver Consulate General of the United States, the Philippines and the Republic of Indonesia. It also showcased a number of cultural performances such as Japanese Taiko and Indonesian Gamelan.

“A celebration today comes at a pivotal moment, given a significant rise in hate crimes in both our countries. The attacks, harassment, blaming and scapegoating of our Asian friends and neighbours must stop and the U.S. Canadian governments will continue to work together under the roadmap for a renewal of U.S. Canada partnership, to advance diversity inclusion by supporting Asian American and Asian cultural revitalization, and by condemning systemic racism and discrimination,” says Consul General D. Brent Hardt in his speech at the opening ceremony.

Some festival highlights

There will be an online artist showcase on May 28, which is a collaboration effort between VAHMS Vancouver and Asian Heritage organizations in Edmonton and Manitoba.

“It is a cool project where each city produces a 15-minute video of artists and Vancouver artists are presented to a national audience,” Yip explains. “And we also do a zoom interview with the artists and play their works and then the audience gets to interact with them.”

VAHMS will also host a Community Awards Celebration on May 21 at PAL Studio Theatre. The event is to honour individuals and organizations who have made a contribution to Pan-Asian Canadian communities. The celebratory evening will also include art exhibitions, auctions and musical performances.

The festival also coincides and includes another major festival in the city – the LiterAsian Festival, where Asian Canadian writers share and discuss their work in a series of talks and workshops with a focus this year on transforming their works from paper to screen.

For those who are interested in picking up a new hobby or skill from a different culture, there are a number of workshops to choose from, ranging from Japanese Taiko, Japanese flower arrangement, Indonesian gamelan to Indonesian Batik making.

The festival is also doing a collaboration with a podcast called Filipino Fridays according to Yip.

“They are hosting a series of Tiny-Desk-concert style performances that are going to be recorded. So there will be a dozen artists that are performing and being interviewed for this series,” he adds.

Yip, also a musician and podcast host himself, says he was first drawn to the festival because of his interest in engaging with community art.

“During my time as an artist, it’s been entirely self-taught. I taught myself how to play music, record music and play on stage. And I relied on community support for just doing so. Working at the radio station, it’s kind of the same, we’re really interested in the whole purpose of the place to provide opportunities for people to engage with media and radio publishing” says Yip. “So I was interested in the festival because it aligned with that interest. I am also half-Chinese and I was raised in Vancouver. I also thought it would be a really good opportunity to connect more deeply with the Chinese side of my heritage that I have not had a lot of opportunities to.”

Exploring Asian heritage

The festival, aligning with its heritage purpose, also has a number of events in store that shed light on Asian Canadian history and culture.

Jasper Yip, Executive Director of Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society. | Photo courtesy of ExplorAsian

British Columbia: An Untold Story, made by Canadian filmmaker Kevin Eastwood will be screened in its entirety at Hon Hsing Athletic Club of Vancouver on May 29. Through intimate interviews and valuable historical footage, the four-part documentary explores the lives of migrants shaping B.C. including Chinese, Japanese and Punjabis, among others.

The screening will be proceeded by a virtual talk on May 27 where the filmmaker discusses with Japanese interviewees in the documentary the hardships that migrants endured and the resilience they demonstrated in the not-so-distant past in B.C.

The U.S. Consulate will also host a panel discussion with VAHMS about the shared Asian heritage between the U.S. and Canada on May 13 in a virtual talk.

There are also four cross-cultural walking tours this month exploring the rich and layered history of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods such as Chinatown. The in-person tours are already sold out but the public can still join a virtual tour with a guide on May 11.

“There are so many great organizations that are just doing amazing things. We are just trying to give all of them a platform and put them all in one place. I would really like to encourage people to spend some time with the program and get to know what’s in there because there’s so much on offer,” Yip concludes.

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