Things to Do

12 Ways to Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Around DC

Food talks, concerts, films, and more.

Explore the history of DC's Chinatown and hear more about similar cultural hubs across the country. Photo by Flickr user allison_b216.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a celebration that is particularly significant this year amidst the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes across the country. This month, hear from local leaders about their work against racism, explore a pop-up market, tune into food talks, and more.

1. Culinasia: The Future of Asian Food in America from Smithsonian Associates

May 5 and May 19 at 6:30PM (online)

Culinasia is a new talk series about food, culture, and chefs within the Asian diaspora. On May 5, tune into “Saving Chinatown and Our Legacies” to hear a panel—including food writer Grace Young, San Francisco chef Brandow Jew, and New York-based grassroots leaders Jennifer Tam and Victoria Lee—discuss the history of Chinatowns throughout the US, as well as what the future holds for these crucial cultural hubs. In “Southeast Asia Got Something to Say” (May 19), restaurateurs and chefs will chat about Southeast Asian cuisine with speakers like Christine Hà, a MasterChef winner who made history as the show’s first blind contestant. This event will also include a cooking demonstration from Bad Saint’s Genevieve Villamora and Vilailuck “Pepper” Teigen (yes, Chrissy Teigen’s mom) from The Pepper Thai Cookbook: Family Recipes from Everyone’s Favorite Thai Mom. Culinasia continues into June, too. Free, registration required.

2. Asian Americans, Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, and other films on WETA PBS

Throughout May on TV (air dates vary)

WETA is showcasing dozens of films focusing on Asian American experiences throughout May. See the five-part documentary series Asian Americans, which digs into the long history of Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the US and explores the struggles, successes, and trailblazing activists/leaders who have shaped these diverse identities over time. Actors Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita narrate; each part will air on Saturday evenings. Other exciting programs to catch include Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, about the Joy Luck Club author’s life (featuring commentary from Crazy Rich Asians creator Kevin Kwan and others) and The Donut King, a janitor-to-CEO tale about Ted Ngoy, who fled Cambodia in 1975 and founded his own doughnut empire. Free, see the full lineup here.

3. Quiet Before: Unearthing Anti-Asian Violence

Through May 27 (online)

These talks focus specifically on racism and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The six-part series—each centering topics like policy, culture, or history—comes from a group of organizations including the 1882 Foundation, Eaton Workshop, the Chinese American Museum, and Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Speakers include Ted Gong, who runs the 1882 Foundation, Diane Fujino, who teaches Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara, and Amrith Kaur, legal director at the nonprofit Sikh Coalition. All events are free, register here.

4. Lunchtime concerts

May 7, 14, and 21 at noon (online)

Catch three Friday shows from local artists highlighting various music genres from this AAPI Heritage Month series by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. String aficionados Judy Huilan Chen and Liming Huang will play traditional Chinese instruments guzheng and erhu (5/7); Alif Laila, who founded the Silver Spring music school Sitar Niketan, will perform classical Sitar songs from India (5/14); and audiences can see Polynesian dance from Meki’s Tamure Polynesian Arts Group (5/21). Free, watch the performances on Facebook Live here.

5. “Jim Lee and Asian American Superheroes” book event

May 6 at 7 PM (online)

Jim Lee knows comics from start to finish. The Korean comic book writer, artist, and editor is currently a heavy hitter at DC Comics, where he’s the chief creative officer and publisher; he’s worked on major hits including The Boy Wonder, Superman: For Tomorrow, and All Star Batman and Robin. Lee will speak on a panel with other comic book artists—illustrator Bernard Chang and writers Sarah Kuhn and Minh Lê—about Asian American superheroes in this virtual event from the Library of Congress. Free, watch it on the LoC YouTube channel here.

6. Love in Exile concert at the Phillips Collection

May 9 at 4 PM (online)

MacArthur “genius” jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, joined by Arooj Aftab on vocals, and Shazad Ismaily on bass, will perform an intimate live show at the Phillips Collection. They’ll play works in response to the visual art around them, currently the gallery’s retrospective Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century, with contemporary works by Malissia Pettaway, Rudolf De Crignis, and others. Free, register here.

7. Eat With Me screening from the DC Public Library

May 14 at 7 PM (online)

Watch Eat With Me, directed by Chinese filmmaker David Au, in this virtual watch party from DCPL. The movie follows one Chinese woman’s journey mending the fraught relationship with her gay son: She moves in with him, learns more about his life, and the pair work to save the family restaurant. This is part of the Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs AAPI Heritage Month series, including a “Dance & Art” day with pieces by Dana Tai Soon (May 17) and a traditional Chinese tea ceremony (May 7). Learn more about the month-long event series here. Free, register here (you’ll need a library card to join the film screening).

8. A Conversation With Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate 

May 20 at 6:30PM (Hook Hall)

Sit down for dinner and a talk to support the local effort Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate. Enjoy a socially distanced three-course meal from Maketto’s Erik Bruner-Yang, Teaism’s Michelle Brown, and Moon Rabbit’s Kevin Tien paired with cocktails from the House of Suntory. As you dig in, chef Tim Ma (most recently of Lucky Danger in Arlington) will join the group in a panel conversation about anti-Asian racism and the efforts to fight it. $190 per person, buy tickets here.

9. “Youth in Action: Ecological Knowledge in Pacific Coastal Communities” from the National Museum of the American Indian

May 20 at noon (online)

Learn about young indigenous activists who are leading the charge against climate change. Panelists include Franceska De Oro, who fights for decolonization and environmental advocacy in Guam, Kammie Tavares, who works on shoreline preservation at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and ’Qátuw̓as Brown of the Haíɫzaqv Climate Action Team in British Columbia. Free, watch the event here.

10. Tween Art—Cherry Blossom Painting

Multiple dates and times in May (online)

Kids can learn how to paint their very own pretty cherry blossoms with a crafty event from the Alexandria Library. Pick up a craft kit and tune in to learn more about the Japanese trees and create your unique interpretation (ages 6-12). Free (times and days vary), register here.

11. The Art of the Memoir

May 27 at 7 PM (online)

Cathy Park Hong’s latest book, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, is an autobiographical essay collection from the poet where she examines everything from her own experiences of racism to the challenge of finding a good therapist. Hong will join novelist Wayétu Moore, whose recent memoir The Dragons, The Giant, The Women follows her story escaping civil war in Liberia, in this talk from the Library of Congress. Hong and Moore will walk through what it takes to write a memoir and how their works weave historical context into their personal narratives. Free, watch it on the LoC YouTube channel here.

12. “A Right to the City” digital exhibit

The Anacostia Community Museum is currently showing its online exhibit about how DC neighborhoods have transformed drastically in recent years. There’s an entire section on Chinatown that explains its roots, walks through important places, and features amazing historic photographs of the area. Scroll through the exhibit here.

Correction: A previous version of this article included the Sari-Sari pop-up market, an event that was cancelled. The story has been updated.

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.