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Melissa Raman Molitor, festival organizer and founder of the Kitchen Table Stories Project, thanked attendees for recognizing the importance of visibility and representation of the ASAPIA community in Evanston and the role of the arts in this work. She said, “The arts are accessible and approachable, and a way we can connect with each other and learn about each other. Sharing our stories is the best vehicle for understanding and empathy.”
There were two cultural performances. Practitioners of Iaido from the Japanese Culture Center showed technical skills using a Japanese long sword. Kids bobbed and swayed to the beat of the next performance by the Tsukasa Taiko Drumming Ensemble from the Asian Improv aRts Midwest. They were proud to showcase their young performers, some from Evanston, especially after a year of pandemic-related isolation, according to Curatorial Director Kioto Aoki.
Evanston resident Jen Likhite, whose family has South Asian, Indian, and Filipino heritage, said, “My kids loved everything about the festival. They particularly loved making the koi and hearing the drummers. Being around other kids with shared experiences and being able to express themselves through art is so valuable.”
The program included remarks by local leaders and youth perspectives. Mayor Daniel Biss said, “I simply wanted to acknowledge the pain that our siblings in the Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander American community have been going through, and to say that as Mayor, my view is the opposite. … a view of knowing that we are who we are because of who is in our community.
“We want to name that and emphasize that, and double down on that as we conceptualize the Evanston that we want to be.” Mayor Biss then read his Proclamation designating the month of May as Evanston Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, which was his first act as Mayor.
Josina Morita, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner and Founding Chair or the Illinois Asian American Caucus, said, “It’s an exciting time to see Asian Americans stepping into public office. … To have Asian Americans at the table at every level of government, to speak up for our communities, and advocate and build bridges with other communities has been so powerful. The best way to celebrate Asian American Heritage Month is really to educate ourselves, our friends, our neighbors on who we are as Asian Americans.”