Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in St. Louis

Monday May 3, 2021

By Mark

Chances are, you’re already celebrating and you don’t even realize it.

You might already be a fan of the Karuna plant-based prebiotic and antioxidant juices and smoothies, or benefit from the interface software platform developed by Enliven. Maybe you’ve “oohed and aahed” at the authentic tea house at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, or taken photos of the flowering cherries and Lotus plants along the beautifully-landscaped pathways. Or perhaps there was that monolithic piece of art at the Saint Louis Art Museum that made you stop and wonder.  The recent story of a local chef, a James Beard nominated semi-finalist, may have caught your eye. Or, during a recent baseball Cardinals game perhaps you caught a glimpse of the new relief pitcher on the mound.

It is all of these sights, sounds, tastes and experiences – and plenty more -- that are being celebrated this month as part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Yes, Angela Zeng (Karuna), Cuong Dang (Enliven), Lona Luo (Beard semi-finalist) and Seung Hwan Oh (Cardinal) represent the mash-up of heritage and cultural enrichment that makes St. Louis what it is today.

Congress first originated the commemoration as a weekly event in 1977 to mark the anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese to the U.S. in May 1843 and the completion of the transcontinental railroad (May 10, 1869), which was made possible by thousands of Chinese laborers. In 1992, the celebration was officially extended throughout the entire month. Each year, APAH Month continues to showcase and elevate the stories, contributions and experiences of the Asian and Asian-American people who have enriched our country’s history and are instrumental in its future success.

So much in our fair city has benefitted from this cultural collaboration. These St. Louisans, many of them and their families who hail from the far corners of the world, have left their indelible mark on everything from the arts and entrepreneurial business ventures to festivals and culinary delights. Today, St. Louis is home to dozens of Asian-affiliated language schools, religious institutions and literature centers, as well as more than 300 authentic and award-winning Pan-Asian restaurants, one of the largest free weekly newspapers in the Midwest (St. Louis Chinese Journal), and another that has served the community for more than 30 years (St. Louis Chinese American News), and multiple grocery stores that cater to diverse and eclectic tastebuds.

Dedicated in 1977, our 14-acre Japanese Garden at the Botanical Garden, is one of the largest in North America, and represents an evolution of centuries of tradition and a multiplicity of cultural influences. Each year, thousands of people from all over the country visit the garden to experience and enjoy the Orchid Show and Orchid Nights (February) as well as Chinese Culture Days (April), one of the largest cultural festivals in the Midwest. The annual Lantern Festival (May through August) features larger than life lighted works designed by Chinese artists. The elaborate outdoor sets are crafted of silk and steel and are breathtakingly bold, dazzling and strikingly photogenic. The event sells out every year.

The world-renowned garden also has an array of Japanese flowering cherries, azaleas, Lotus and peonies. Its four-acre lake, or wet-stroll garden, also includes an authentic Japanese tea garden, lily turf and a Rankei lantern (unique to 19th century-style), as well as another lantern preserved from the 1904 World’s Fair.

Origami in the Garden,” a monumental outdoor sculpture exhibition is currently making its St. Louis debut through Oct. 10 at the Botanical Garden. Created by Santa Fe artists Jennifer and Kevin Box, the sculptures tell the story of origami, the Japanese art of paper folding.  The daytime exhibit is included in the admission and free for Members.

Just a few miles away, the Saint Louis Art Museum has popular galleries devoted to calligraphy and monochromatic art from China, Korea and Japan, including works that range from 900-year-old ceramics to 20th century paintings. The newest display, Figural Subjects in Chinese Art, is available for viewing through October 2021. Included in this installation exhibit is the must-see hanging scroll titled “Beauty in a Bamboo Grove.”

The Contemporary Art Museum currently has work on display by artists Yun-Fei Ji and Jia Zhang-Ke that represent themes regarding society, politics and the environment. In addition, USA Today named Saint Louis University Museum of Art (SLUMA), one of the 10 university museums in the country worth exploring. It is home to an impressive permanent collection, including Asian Decorative arts.

On Thurs., May 20 the Missouri History Museum will be virtually hosting, “Stories of Chinese St. Louis: William and Anne Tao.”  The Tao’s son, Peter, will share the indelible imprint his parents left on the great St. Louis community through their company, William Tao & Associates. Tao will talk of his father’s journey from northern China and how he helped shape St. Louis’ physical and cultural landscape. This event is part of the museum’s 2021 Bicentennial programming, commemorating 200 years of Missouri’s history.

Foodies here can explore a cavernous selection of mouth-watering authentic creations that cover every Pan-Asian corner of the globe. Fresh Asian cuisine with a soul-food flare (Lona’s Lil Eats); grass jelly drinks at Sweetie Cup Thai Café; rice cake soup with karaoke and K-pop songs at Joo Joo Restaurant; Taiwanese Bolo Buns at The Foundry Bakery; sushi alongside anime wall art at Blue Ocean Restaurant; and Korean tacos at the ever-popular Seoul Taco. And so much more.

So, please – join us this month as we celebrate our city’s historical and cultural narrative.

Influenced by the world.