Chicago celebrates Asian American culture

May 6, 2009 3:59:28 PM PDT
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It's a celebration of the cultures and people from dozens of countries in the Far East and the Indian subcontinent.

It doesn't get more American than starting a cultural program with a stirring of the American soul.

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Aisha Patel belts out the Star Spangled Banner for staffers from the Cook County clerk's office who are here to see art and dance and other things South Asian on their lunch break. It's a scene that attracts the busiest of court characters to the lobby of Daley Plaza.

"It is really important for our children to know what asia is. I don't want them to forget about it," said Deputy Clerk Beena Patel, Circuit Court of Cook County.

Not forgetting, and more importantly, impressing on the American landscape the impact of Asian Americans is what this celebration is all about.

Asian American Heritage Month was first proclaimed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 to commemorate the first wave of Japanese immigration to the U.S. And it was expanded to include countries from India to Pakistan to Vietnam and China in the last thirty years.

Today, Washington says 4.3 percent of the Chicago region's 9 million plus population is Asian American and Wednesday's event is one of many through the month to expand newcomers' hold on America and invite the embrace of fellow citizens.

"We forget that we are from India or China or Pakistan and we become American. But also we want to mix our culture with American culture," said Patel.

At the Boeing Corporation, lunchtime speakers in seemingly non-traditional occupations fill the demand to hear more about how Asian Americans are faring.

It's subtle, but for a company that stands for U.S. ingenuity, taking time to talk about cultural awareness has its benefits.

"It is the right thing to do and it is the business thing to do we know that diversity provides a competitive advantage for our company," said Fanee Harrison, Boeing diversity coordinator.

Still, Asian American Heritage Month, though it is more than three decades old, has a ways to go in penetrating American consciousness.

"I did not know that you learn something new everyday I guess," said Mike Green of Chicago when asked if knew about Asian American Heritage Month.

"I am going to tell everyone it is Asian American/Pacific Islander Month in Chicago," said Amir Tahmassebi, Elkhart, IN.

In the 2006 census, 14.6 million people called themselves at least partly Asian , 4.9 percent of the U.S. population. The largest ethnic subgroups are Chinese, (3.6 million), Filipinos, (2.9 million), Asian Indians.

Nearly three-quarters of Asian Americans live in big metropolitan areas.


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