Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month With Rio Salado


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Monday, May 15, 2023
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! This is a time to celebrate the achievements and rich history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Asian/Pacific is a rather broad umbrella, encompassing a panoply of cultural backgrounds from the Asian continent, the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Countries and territories as culturally diverse and geographically disparate as Easter Island, Samoa, New Guinea, the Hawaiian islands, and Thailand are all part of this month-long celebration.

The Origins of AAPI Month

AAPI Month got its start in 1977 when both the House of Representatives and Congress introduced resolutions to designate the first 10 days in May as Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week. While both resolutions failed to pass, it inspired future efforts which led to President Jimmy Carter issuing a proclamation in 1979 that made the AAPI Heritage Week a reality. From then on each year presidents passed similar annual proclamations until 1992 when AAPI Month was finally formally recognized.

One might wonder: why May? The reason why this month was chosen to recognize AAPI communities is in recognition of the first Japanese to immigrate to the United States on May 7, 1843. This month was also chosen to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Most of the workers who laid down the tracks that became this vital railroad were Chinese immigrants.

Learn About AAPI Month

Our library staff have put together a very informative guide about AAPI Month. It includes statistics about the AAPI population in the U.S, links to district events and affinity groups, featured library selections, and a video on "Being Asian in America." Check out the guide on our site.

Experience New Sights And Sounds For AAPI Month

If you’re looking to expand your cultural horizons and experience some influential AAPI art, consider exploring the rich history of Asian cinema. Many of the countries celebrated during AAPI Month have long traditions of film experimentation that have proven to be very influential over the years (case in point: Star Wars wouldn’t exist were it not for George Lucas’s love of the movies of Japanese auteur/Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa). 

What follows are a few suggestions of films. Please note that this is not meant to be a definitive or comprehensive list: this is just to throw out a few signposts to orient you on a long and rewarding journey through foreign cinema.

  • Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950). One of Kurosawa’s most famous films, Rashomon uses multiple perspectives to tell the same story through the eyes of “unreliable” narrators. Regular Kurosawa leading man Toshiro Mifune gives one of his best performances as a sweaty, deranged bandit.

  • Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953). Ozu made a long career telling stories about families adapting to changing norms in Japan. This one - about an elderly couple visiting their children in Tokyo and realizing how far apart they’ve all grown - is a classic tearjerker.

  • Women in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964). A tense, unnerving thriller about a man who gets trapped in the bottom of a sandpit with a strange woman who’s made it her home.

  • Manila in the Claws of Light (Lino Brocka, 1975). One of the Philippines’ leading filmmakers, Brocka stunned international audiences with this desperate-man-on-the-street look at life on the streets in Manila.

  • Thrilling Bloody Sword (Chang Hsin-Yi, 1981). This Taiwanese martial arts/fantasy film is full of inventive setpieces, strange monsters, and whimsical special effects.

  • The Miracle Fighters (Yuen Woo-ping, 1982). Future Matrix fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping built his reputation on movies like The Miracle Fighters - wild kung-fu films with dazzling, almost superhuman stunts, fight scenes, and a surrealistic sense of mysticism and magic.

  • Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985). Jackie Chan’s career in Hong Kong from the 80s-90s is unparalleled. A gifted physical comedian and martial artist, Chan’s knack for pulling off incredibly dangerous stunts on camera is second to none. Police Story epitomizes the best qualities of this film legend and shows off some of his most impressive stunt work.

  • His Motorbike, Her Island (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1986). A star-crossed romance between two teens, Obayashi’s film is full of inventive and bold visuals. Switching from color to B&W, different aspect ratios, shifting from tragedy and drama to wild comedy (sometimes in the same scene): it’s an unpredictable, moving, and thrilling experience.

  • The Hole (Tsai Ming-liang, 1998). One of Taiwan’s most acclaimed filmmakers, Tsai Ming-liang’s The Hole is an unusual take on apocalypse films. In The Hole, a pair of loners struggle to get by in a damp, dilapidated building while the world outside falls apart. But also: it’s a musical! The musical scenes have to be seen to be believed.

  • Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou, 1991). Yimou’s film about the struggles women faced living under patriarchy stuns us with gorgeous lighting, immaculately staged environments, and moving performances by a cast of talented actresses.

  • Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1993). The best romantic comedy made anywhere in the world in the 1990s. Nothing else comes close.

  • Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997). An environmental parable about mankind’s damaging influence on the natural world, anime director Miyazaki uses his gift for fantastical imagery and memorable character design to create a one-of-a-kind war story.

  • Election (Johnnie To, 2005). The prolific To (one of the leading lights in Hong Kong cinema after the 1997 handover) has made dozens of essential films. Election - the story of a Triad mob democratically electing their new boss - is one of his best. Not just a brutal satire of crime films, but a commentary on politics and corruption in general.

  • Paprika (Satoshi Kon, 2006). A hallucinatory sci-fi film about dreams invading the real world, Paprika is one of the late Kon’s most well-regarded films.

  • Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010). Perhaps Thailand’s most famous and acclaimed director, Weerasethakul’s seamless blending of the fantastical with mundane reality gives his films the feeling of watching a dream play out in real time.

  • Shin Godzilla (Hideaki Anno, 2016). Godzilla has been reimagined and reinvented throughout film history, but Anno’s update of the movie monster takes the franchise into fresh territory. As much a satire of hapless bureaucracy as it is a giant monster movie, Shin Godzilla is both the funniest and most disturbing film in the series.

Article by Austin Brietta

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