With May starting in a couple of weeks, we are quickly approaching Memorial Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Mothers’ Day. However, there is also a lesser known importance that comes with May: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
This celebration is very significant and appreciated, but it does have its faults. When we celebrate, or even just think of Asia, we think of a few select countries: Korea, Japan, China, and a few other East Asian countries. However, Asia is a collective of 48 countries, all with very unique and rich cultures.
Asia and its culture encompass more than just the few select countries that we associate with this continent. To name a few, we have the Hmong people, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Laos, and Sri Lanka in South Asia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Yemen in West Asia, and Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in Central Asia.
And so, with this Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I found it sensible to take a look at a few of these cultures—the ones that we don’t typically know much about.
Laos is a Southeast Asian country that borders Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar. There are many tribes within this small country and at least 68 tribal groups. According to Laos Adventures, their custom for women is to “wear the distinctive phaa sin” which is “a long, patterned skirt.” The Vietnamese conical hat is also common. Nowadays, however, “women often wear Western-style clothing” although phaa sin is still worn by women whenever in government offices. Men also wear Western-style clothing, though “the phaa biang sash” is worn “on ceremonial occasions.”
Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world and is located near Tibet, Bangladesh, and Nepal. According to the Tourism Council of Bhutan, the Bhutanese have a very distinctive traditional dress, including a Gho and a Kira.
Additionally, Bhutan celebrates through a“wide variety of elaborate and colorful religious festivals,” the most well-known one being the annual Tshechu. When this festival begins, the Bhutanese dress “in their finest clothing”; the Tshechus typically mark importances in the “life of the second Buddha, the Indian/Pakistani Tantric master known as Guru Rinpoche or the Precious Gem.” This three-day festival includes mask dances, songs, dances, spicy pork, red rice, “Ema Datshi and Momos (pork dumplings),” and Ara (a rice wine).
Brunei is a very small Southeast Asian country surrounded by the Sarawak state of Malaysia, on an island east of Singapore. Malaysia has a strong influence on Brunei, as Sarawak surrounds them; as a result, Brunei has a large percentage of people who practice Islam.
Brunei receives “influences from all over the world as new technologies and food concepts have arrived and been accepted” according to Food, Dining, Drinks in Brunei.
Ambuyat, Brunei’s national dish, which is a “fluffy mixture of sago (a starch from a tree) and water usually served with sauces or side dishes.” Mee Goreng, a dish consisting of fried noodles with vegetables, is a regular on most menus. (Nasi Goreng is its counterpart, featuring fried rice in place of noodles)
These glimpses into specific nations show the richness of just three cultures in Asia, further exemplifying how varied and unique the continent’s cultures are. As you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, I urge you to celebrate and learn about the numerous cultures and ethnic groups of Asia—not just its most prominent nations.