ASIANS may be a minority in the United States but they have kept their rich cultures alive by holding annual celebrations to remind the younger generation of their roots.
Several nationalities recently held elaborate activities in conjunction with Asian Heritage month in New York to showcase their rich traditions and cultures.
The Japanese community celebrated the Sakura Matsuri, or “rite of spring” on the first weekend of May at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (BBG).
With some 220 cherry blossom trees in full bloom, the place could have been mistaken for a park in Osaka as pink petals draped the grounds and dainty kimono-clad girls and women mingled with the crowd.
The BBG is said to have the biggest number of Japanese cherry trees in the US, thus making it the perfect setting for the Sakura Matsuri celebration in New York, held for the 28th year.
Thousands who visited the gardens during the weekend were treated to a range of performances from traditional Japanese music and dance to concerts by some of Japan’s hottest J-pop stars, taiko drumming, an anime voice actor panel, bonsai pruning workshops, a traditional kimono show, and demonstrations and workshops for all ages. There were also special performances by anime comedian Uncle Yo and the World Cosplay Summit Team USA.
The following weekend, a Malaysia Day celebration was held in Flushing, Queens which attracted thousands of Malaysians, including second and third generations now settled in New York. The guest-of-honour was Malaysian consul-general Mohd Zamruni Khalid.
The event, jointly organised by the Malaysian Association of America (MAA) and the New York MCA branch, started off with an energetic lion dance by a local troupe, with the lion costumes uniquely made from colourful batik. The crowd at Flushing Mall was later entertained to traditional Malaysian dances and a batik fashion show.
Tourism Malaysia and Malaysia Airlines were among those which set up booths at the venue.
No celebration would be complete without filling one’s stomach with delicious Malaysian fare like rendang and laksa and the food was quickly snapped up.
MAA director Jack Liaw estimated that there were about 50,000 Malaysians living in Flushing alone. The fair is held annually to bring together the community as well as to expose the young to the rich Malaysian culture.
The Sikh community in New York meanwhile marked their 300th anniversary of the installation of Guru Granth Sahib as Guru with an annual Sikh Day parade in Manhattan, passing through Broadway and Herald Square.
The highlights of the parade included performance of Sikh martial arts like gatka and free food stalls.
The parade is held every year in New York by the Sikh Cultural Society, Richmond Hill, in association with gurdwaras in the Tri-State area and Sikh organisations in the US and Canada.
Another cultural highlight in the city was the “Passport to Taiwan” celebration which coincided with the Memorial Day weekend on the third week of May.
It attracted thousands of people to Union Square in downtown Manhattan, making it the largest outdoor Taiwanese event in the US.
Since the initiation of “Passport to Taiwan” festival in 2002, it has become the most important event for Taiwanese American Association of New York as well as the Taiwanese American community in the New York Tri-State area.
There were demonstrations by dough figurine makers and calligraphy masters, traditional children’s games and a mini-concert.
Despite the hot weather, the crowd patiently queued up under the glare of the summer sun to sample Taiwanese fare such as the turtle cakes, glass noodles and Taiwanese burgers.
These celebrations are just a handful of those celebrated by New York’s large immigrant population annually.
About 40% of New York’s population are foreign born and the city is often described as the archetype of a “nation of immigrants”.
In Queens, where most of the immigrants stay, there are 167 nationalities and 116 languages, the greatest variety in the country and possibly the world.
The immigrants include Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Caribbeans, Hasidic Jews, Latin Americans, Russians, Indians, Malaysians and many others.
New York is in essence, a true cultural melting pot.