Jun 19, 2024

The formal opening of the festival featured cultural presentations, including a Balinese gamelan performance. Photo courtesy of explorASIAN.

The annual explorASIAN festival, launched on April 27 at SFU’s Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre in downtown Vancouver,   kicks off a May month-long celebration.

One of the longest-running festivals in Metro Vancouver, explorASIAN honours Canadians of Asian heritage and their diverse cultures.

Leticia Sanchez is the president of the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society (VAHMS), the group behind the festival.

According to Sanchez, explorASIAN is a celebration of the contributions of Asian Canadians to Canadian society.

“They all enrich Canada, and we invite everyone to discover their unique and evolving traditions,” Sanchez said.

Canadians of Asian ancestry are an important part of the country’s multicultural identity.

Based on the 2016 Census, Canadians of Chinese heritage (1.8 million people), East Indian extraction (approximately 1.4 million people) and Filipino origin (837,130 people) are among the 20 most common ancestries reported by the Canadian population.

As part of the May 2018 celebration of Asian Heritage Month, the federal government released a list of “noteworthy historical figures”.

One of the Asians cited by the government was Conrad Santos, the first Canadian Filipino to be elected to public office in Canada.

Santos served as a member of the Manitoba legislative assembly in 1981-1988 and 1990-2007. Born in the Philippines and educated in the U.S., Santos moved to Winnipeg in 1965.

The theme for this year’s explorASIAN celebrations is ‘Embracing Pan-Asian Communities’.

“This year’s explorASIAN focus is pan-Asian arts and culture, in recognition of the unique roles that many different cultures played and continue to play in our country and communities,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said that there’ll be something for everyone, from Chinatown walkabouts to Indonesian batik demos, from temple festivals and ikebana workshops to dim sum after dark.

A media release notes that event highlights include a guided cross-cultural walking tour of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhoods that will explore the contributions of early immigrants who settled in Hogan’s Alley, Jewish Strathcona, Japantown (now Powell Street) and Chinatown. The tours, to be held every Sunday in May, celebrate Canada’s Asian Heritage Month and Jewish Heritage Month, which both fall in May.

“Art in its many forms, from some of the most creative Canadians of Asian heritage, plays a central role in explorASIAN,” said Sanchez.

The media release also notes that a key attraction in the lineup this year is a unique collaboration between Vancouver’s Sound of Dragon Ensemble, famed for pairing Chinese and western instruments, and premier San Francisco-based Chinese chamber group Melody of China, which will be held May 30 at the Western Front in Vancouver.

Other live performances include Indian classical dance and flamenco music, scheduled on April 27 at Surrey City Hall; Iranian folk music, on May 5 at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver, and a theatre production of the 1,001 Night Tales – Scheherazade, scheduled on May 18 at the Michael J. Fox Theatre in Burnaby.

For film fans, explorASIAN offers When The Storm Fades, a documentary-comedy about the Filipino survivors of a devastating typhoon (scheduled April 17 at Emily Carr University of Art + Design), and All Our Father’s Relations, a feature film on the Grant family’s journey of discovery from Vancouver to China (scheduled to screen April 24 at the Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch).

Art, ceramics, photography, calligraphy and other exhibitions and demonstrations are also slated across Metro Vancouver, and most activities are free and publicly accessible.

The festival opens with Vancouver City Hall illuminated in red on May 1, to celebrate the starting day of Asian Heritage Month. It concludes with a special gala on June 7 that will recognize outstanding community leaders and organizations who have significantly contributed to Asian cultural diversity and explorations in Vancouver and beyond.

“After more than two decades, explorASIAN remains the sole pan-Asian arts and culture celebration in the metro Vancouver area, and we will continue to develop our programs in the months ahead, with the support of our partners and sponsors,” added Sanchez. “We plan to provide many more explorations of Asian Canadian arts and cultures – particularly for and by the youth, whose creativity and passion are so critical to shaping our society and Canadian identity.”

For the festival schedule, visit https://explorasian.org/.