From traditional Samoan fire knife dancers to the spirit of aloha with a community lū‘au, the second annual Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Day celebration is returning to Riverfront Park on May 14. The festivities will highlight the historical and cultural contributions from these communities around the world and in Spokane.
Pam Tajima Praeger is a board member of the Hifumi En Society, a regional group that focuses on the Japanese-American community .
“Hifumi Em” translates to “first, second and third generations” and events like the Heritage Day, Praeger said, create opportunity to discuss the intricate history within ANHPI communities.
“I think this event gives an opportunity to show how some of the community organizers from different groups bring their culture from their home countries,” Praeger said.
Spokane and Japan have storied roots.
Nishinomiya has been Spokane’s sister city since 1962. In 2019, a community garden in Riverfront Park was built and dedicated to Spokane’s sister cities, including Nishinomiya, on the site of the Japanese Pavilion in Expo ’74.
The Mukogawa Institute also plays an integral part , hosting a Japan Week celebration in the spring.
Praeger hopes that conversations around the Japanese and other Asian communities will take new directions.
“I think one thing that’s significant about it, is that (the day is) honoring people of Asian descent but also Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders, and I think maybe Vice President Kamala Harris helped people become more aware of the breadth of what it means to be of Asian descent,” Prager said.
Outside of achievement, the heritage day celebration is a n opportunity to examine the histories of immigration between Asian countries and America.
Praeger, a third-generation immigrant, has found ways to explore the immigrant experience through Humifi En’s proposed heritage day plans. Miné Okubo, a Japanese-American author and illustrator, will be part of Humifi En’s strategy to educate attendees.
Okubo’s book “Citizen 13660” explores the discrimination and mistreatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and their forced relocation to internment camps. In addition to the graphic novel, Okubo’s pamphlets detailing the experiences will be distributed at the heritage day. Those items were donated to Humifi En by a Japanese-American festival in Los Angeles.
“These little booklets take some of Okubo’s pictures and ask the person receiving the booklet, ‘What did these expressions say? What did these faces in the picture say? How do you think they’re feeling?’ ” Praeger said.
The celebration is combined with the 10th annual Family Fun Fair and welcomes all ages through educational activities, a petting zoo, pony rides and photo opportunities with mascots of local universities. Traditional foods from the Laotian, Vietnamese, Chamorro, Hawaiian, Samoan communities will be served, and other cultural practices such as dresses, jewelry and art will be displayed and sold as well.
Sponsored by the Hispanic Business Professional Association, a COVID-19 vaccination clinic will be held at the heritage days as well. For the Spokane celebration, the clinic will be located at the Pavilion’s Sky Room. Those interested can receive their first and second doses, along with the additional boosters.
Jacqueline Babol is a Filipino podiatrist and will participate in the heritage day celebration as a Filipino American Northwest Association board member. They’re preparing a performance of the Sayaw Sa Cuyo, a Filipino folk dance, and the coulon, a Spanish waltz that includes about 16 to 20 couples.
“We kind of do this more for fun than anything else but an excuse to dance and party,” Babol said. “I’m a foot doctor, but I’m also a Zumba instructor. I ended up marrying a guy who does not like to do dance so I have to have some kind of outlet and most Filipinas are into karaoke.”
Babol mentioned that community protection is also another necessary aspect of these celebrations. Operating mass, in-person events comes with taking precautions against exposure to COVID-19 and its variants. Babol believes it is the community’s responsibility to ensure that everyone is safe during celebrations, especially in Asian communities where, Babol said, it is common for multiple generations to live in a home.
Babol lives with her 88-year-old mother who plays dominoes at the senior center from noon to 4 p.m. Babol’s partner died from COVID-19 complications last August.
“I think to have some sense of normalcy, it’s important to have a little bit more protection,” she said. “Especially since the vaccination is there to protect us so we can do whatever we want to do. It’s important to be vaccinated and boosted.”
Connection is a strong tie into the heritage day events. For Nathan O’Neill, a Spokane artist and muralist of Hawaiian descent, these celebrations help him reconnect with himself. O’Neill’s work centers around aquatic life and its surrounding visuals of flowers and the ocean.
The expressions of his art’s background are a display of culture, but also a way to remind himself to celebrate his Hawaiian roots. He called the heritage day a “moment of reciprocation” among the community and an opportunity to “collaborate with everyone else” around him.
“I’ve been integrating that with fish and water since it’s the closest I’ve been, but as far as my need to take my Hawaiian roots into my art, I bring that constantly. You’re welcomed to come in and that’s all I want for my work is the Hawaiian part of my heart to be seen,” O’Neill said. “This (event) is new to me too, and this is a new opportunity for me to ignite and unite who I am as well.”
Over 35,000 people are expected to attend the celebrations. The first 500 visitors of the Spokane event will receive a free lunch from the Spokane Quaranteam, which will be located in the lobby of the Pavilion. The first 500 attendees also will receive a swag bag donated by the Coeur d’Alene Casino.
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