Given the multitude of countries and ethnicities that fall under the heading “Asian Pacific American,” it’s little surprise that it can encompass just about everything, from land expropriation in Tibet to John Coltrane‘s “India” period to Daruma dolls. Organizers at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center (388 9th St., Oakland) give the concept of “cultural heritage” a ton of latitude at their annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival, which runs throughout the month of May. Last year’s iteration became a de facto celebration of feminism, said OACC program director April Kim. By coincidence, the lit night event centered on women authors: The featured documentary film, The Mosque in Morgantown, focused on women’s right to pray alongside men in a West Virginia mosque; and the artists in residence were two loud, fierce, female Korean drummers. If this year’s festival had a theme, it might be cross-pollination. That’s partly due to the exigencies of an economic slump, said Kim, explaining that artist-collaborations make it easier to produce and curate large-scale, month-long events like this one. But it’s also a way to showcase the panoply that is the Asian-American experience.
This year’s APA Heritage includes several compelling presentations. On Saturday, May 29, at 8 p.m., the Carnatic-jazz trio VidyA collaborates with dancer Rina Mehta for a piece that mixes traditional Kathak dance with improvised jazz. The following day at 2 p.m., Anthony Brown’s Asian American Orchestra performs a tribute to John Coltrane, focusing specifically on the saxophonist’s fascination with Indian music. This year’s featured film, A Village Called Versailles, will show how a Vietnamese community in New Orleans recovered from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. (It screens Wednesday, May 19, at 6:30 p.m.) A family event called Asian Arts Together (Saturday, May 29, 1-3 p.m.) mixes Korean kite-making with Daruma dolls, Cambodian theater masks, and Lunar New Year tiger puppets. Even the lit night has a dual-identity component, since it features Asian-American writers who also identify as members of the LGBTQ community (Thursday, May 27, 7 p.m.).
Yet the most surreptitiously subversive event of the whole festival might be a culinary workshop on Sunday, May 9, 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., which kicks off the festivities. Led by gastronome and restaurateur Tsering Wangmo, it centers on sah paley, a traditional dumpling from Amdho Provence in Tibet — birthplace of the Dalai Lama. Wangmo sees herself not merely as a chef but as a cultural ambassador of sorts, said Kim. She hosted a similar workshop last year during which she sang Tibetan opera and shared her life story. She also invited other people to weigh in. “Last year there were several Chinese people and several Tibetan people,” said Kim. “The dialogues they were having were so thoughtful and careful and gentle. It’s really interesting when people cook and talk about politics together.” The Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival runs May 9 through June 5. 510-637-0455 or OACC.cc