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2018 Obon festivities at the Tri-State Denver Buddhist Temple. Photo by Glenn J. Asakawa

Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in Colorado

Learn about the state's rich Asian history, art, and cuisine.

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In the Yim household, the kids have listened to their grandparents talk about growing up in China, honored traditions, and what it means to be Chinese American. Generational wisdom and culture keeping is vital to their family. Deborah Yim, a Denver mom and civil rights attorney, encourages her family in celebrating their heritage through holidays, wearing traditional clothing, and Chinese language school. 

Yim also brings her kids along on service projects so they can contribute to and get to know the broader AAPI community in Denver as well.  Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) folks in Denver County represent more than 21 nations, according to data from the Bureau of Census, 2019

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The importance of celebrating AAPI Heritage Month is more evident this year, according to Yim, after having seen a surge of anti-Asian rhetoric and hate-related incidents.

“AAPI Heritage Month, to me, is kind of like the candles on top of a cake,” says Yim. “The cake—ensuring that our Asian American history and our experiences are stories that continue to be told and are respected as part of the American story—is something that is built year round, with Heritage Month as the candles culminating our celebration.”

Join Yim and her family in honoring AAPI Heritage Month, and supporting the community all year round. 

Learn from history, bring forward the future

Dig into the history of Denver’s Chinatown. What’s now known as LoDo was once a hub for Chinese residents. In 1880, there was an anti-Chinese riot that left Look Young, a Chinese laundry worker, fatally beaten and Chinese-owned properties wrecked beyond recovery, according to History Colorado. The Re-Envisioning Historic Chinatown Project, a new effort including young activists such as Kai Vong, age 17, is working to create cultural and historic markers, revitalizing alleyways in remembrance of Chinatown, Denver.

Take a driving tour to learn about the internment of Japanese people during WWII. The Amache incarceration site, a National Historic Landmark, is where more than 7,000 Japanese folks, mostly American citizens, were forcibly imprisoned at the Granada Relocation Center in Colorado from 1942 to 1945. Visitors to the site (three and a half hours southeast of downtown Denver) are invited to the grounds where they can listen to audio recordings for context about internment and life on the property.

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Use The Parenting Asian America Project’s Anti-Asian Racism Resource Guide for discussion about how to address identity-based hate and bias. In the year 2020, reports of anti-Asian actions increased, according to the Denver Asian Chamber of Commerce. Organizations such as CORE (Community Organizing for Radical Empathy) have mobilized a Stop Asian Hate movement locally; they held a rally at the capitol building in March 2021. Musicians played, speakers of all ages shared testimonies and appeals to the crowd, and emcees offered ways to get involved: find resources at coasian.carrd.co. Yim is also working with her daughter, Alex, age eight, to build a nonprofit called Kids Against Hate, which will start with a series of workshops on responding to bullying, harassment, and microaggressions.

Keep up with the community by reading Asian Avenue Magazine, a local publication “dedicated to sharing Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) experiences and cultures.” They’ve been awarded one of the 2021 Martin Luther King, Jr. Business Awards for their work. Young parents may be interested in the “Pregnant in the Pandemic” article or the International Women’s Day piece featuring impressive youth. Check out their special issue in May including “100 AAPIs You Should Know in Colorado,” highlighting Asian businesses and sharing the work of Asian organizations.

Join a Facebook group such as the DAMES (Denver Asian Mom Extraordinaires), Outdoor Asian Colorado, or Subtle Asian Colorado. “Being an Asian American in Colorado can sometimes feel like an isolating experience, especially during COVID,” says Yim. “These groups have been wonderful at creating community during this tough time.” 

Learn about the work being done to support AAPI refugees and immigrants through the Asian Pacific Development Center. People of all ages benefit from this center’s programs and initiatives including the English learning class for adults, health equity advocacy, behavioral health clinic, and both the Youth Leadership Academy and New American Youth Leadership Council. 

Arts and education experiences

Visit Sakura Square, a cultural and commercial hub spanning one block in downtown Denver, which hosts the Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple (TSDBT) in one corner, community organizations, plus food and wellness businesses. The TSDBT’s focus on Jodo Shinshu Buddhism means it’s a welcome ground for “everyday Buddhism” and “ordinary people,” according to their site. They currently offer religious services online due to COVID-19 restrictions; and under normal circumstances host programs including aikido self defense, Japanese hand crafts, and Judo.

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Shop local and find fun gifts including candy, snacks, clothing, anime, k-beauty (Korean skin care), jewelry, plants, gifts, and herbs at Truong An Gifts in the Far East Center off Federal Boulevard. Adore by Nora is run by mother Pamela Yang in Central Park and offers handmade, adorable slow fashion in sizes nine months through 5T. Share a kind note or a funny message through Amy Zhang’s beautifully illustrated cards; snag some stickers, stationery, and a self-care deck of cards. 

Stay tuned for Denver Taiko, an organization committed to honoring and sharing Japanese drumming. The group meets in the TSDBT for practices and lessons, and they perform at events including Denver’s Cherry Blossom Festival. They’re also available for booking year-round. Get pumped for the pounding of the drums by watching past performances on their Facebook page.

Sign up for weekly classes at Roshni, an arts group founded by Indian dancer Deepali Lindblom. The New American stories program is offered to refugee and immigrant children, the I ARISE group connects refugee and immigrant women with American women, and the Chance on Dance Bollywood cardio class currently held each Wednesday online. Roshni invites folks from all walks of life to use art in the promotion of inclusion, empathy, and telling stories that have been on the margins. Catch the virtual New American Stories Showcase, presented by youth artists, on May 8, 2021.

Take a trip to Japan through Japan America Society of Colorado (JASC) free online learning experiences. Elementary and middle school students can learn about Japanese culture, language, crafts, holidays, and a day-in-the-life of a student in Japan. The presentation is given in English, but Japanese words and phrases are incorporated throughout. Request the program for your school or classroom consisting of 10 or more students online.

Look forward to local festivals including Denver’s annual Sakura Matsuri, AKA Cherry Blossom Festival, which typically takes place in June. This year, the elements of the festival will be re-imagined due to the many unknowns of the pandemic at this time; see the website for details and ways to participate. Bon Odori, a festival marking a Japanese tradition of honoring ancestors, is typically held in late July or early August but went virtual last year. Stay tuned for updates on the TSDBT website and social media. The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival is planned for late September and will feature dragon boat racing, culture, arts and entertainment, and food. 

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Cultural exploration through cuisine

Stock up your fridge at home with some snacks, pantry staples, and ingredients for a new dish. Visit H Mart in Aurora and Westminster, and Pacific Mercantile Company in Sakura Square. Order Thai chili oil from Mama Sue’s Kitchen, Indian samosas from Samosa Shop, and Japanese sushi kits from The Sushi Man

Try Vietnamese dishes, beyond pho; Denver-area restaurants are serving up much more from the culture’s herby, savory, produce-packed fare. New Saigon off Federal Boulevard, for example, has an extensive menu; kids might pick the crispy spring rolls (chả giò), grilled chicken with fried rice (cơm gà nướng), plus a smoothie or boba to sip.

Take a trip to the Philippines by way of ChowSun’s menu. The family-owned restaurant in Aurora serves meat, seafood, and vegetarian dishes in authentic Thai and Filipino style. From the Filipino side, your younger and often pickier eaters might delight in creamy crab wontons, peanutty chicken satay, fried gyoza, chicken adobo, and definitely a finish of bright purple ube (yam) ice cream.

Experience Indian dining from Chef Charles Mani’s Urban Village Restaurant in Lone Tree. The vibe is a bit elevated and plating meant to tempt in a sophisticated way, but kiddos will appreciate the flavors and textures in potato stuffed samosa, buttery naan, tender tandoori chicken, and sweet gulab jamun. 

Try local Korean barbeque at DAE GEE (“pig” in Korean), which has been featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives twice. Adults, give their new canned ale a shot; it’s a modern take on Korean Makkoli. Kids can’t go wrong with dumplings (goon mandoo), Korean BBQ pork belly (sam gyeob sal), and shaved ice for dessert.

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Indulge in desserts at Aurora’s Snowl Cafe, featuring a wonderland of treats including Taiyaki ice cream, a green tea swirl served in a waffle-based open-mouth fish, and large buckets of shaved ice in nine flavors. Third Culture Bakery’s bright and chewy mochi donuts have made a big splash in the Denver foodie scene; find them in Aurora as well.

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