Celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in LA

Cultural exhibits, film screenings, live performances and more

Every May, the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) presents Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a citywide celebration that honors the cultures of the AAPI community, and the generations of AAPIs who have helped make Los Angeles one of the most diverse cities in the world.

The theme for this year's celebration is "Unity is Strength," selected to reflect on the importance of community over the course of the last year.

Read on for highlights of the numerous cultural exhibits, film screenings, live performances, and online activities taking place throughout the month.

For the full list of AAPI Heritage Month events, download the DCA's 2023 Calendar & Cultural Guide, which features the artwork of local AAPI artists.

"Boba Aqua Boogie" by Dezcjon at CAM
"Boba Aqua Boogie" by Dezcjon | Instagram: @dezcjon

"The Boba Show" - Chinese American Museum (through Jan. 27, 2024)

The Chinese American Museum (CAM) is the first museum in Southern California that's dedicated to the Chinese American experience and history in this region.

Now on view at CAM, the boba show: history, diaspora, & a third space traces the historic transformation from the cassava root native to South American soil to the beloved confection created in Taiwan before returning to the Americas and exploding into mainstream culture. Co-curated by Dr. Juily Phun and Jason Pereira, the boba show features works by Boone Nguyen, Crisselle, Dezcjon, Ellie Chen, JP / Jason Pereira, Nana, roldy aguero ablao, Samantha Tagaloa and Vivian Shih.

After you visit CAM, be sure to check out our Boba Guide and get your bubble tea fix!

Three young boys play baseball outside the barracks, from "Don't Fence Me In" at JANM
Three boys play baseball outside the barracks | Photo: Japanese American National Museum

"Don't Fence Me In" - JANM (through Oct. 1, 2023)

Located in Little Tokyo, the mission of the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) is to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.

Now on view through October 1, Don’t Fence Me In: Coming of Age in America’s Concentration Camps explores the experiences of Japanese American youth who asserted their place as young Americans confronting the injustice of being imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II and embarking on the universal journey into adolescence. During WWII, more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were unjustly incarcerated in American concentration camps - approximately one third were children. Through photographs, personal stories and artifacts, Don’t Fence Me In reveals the strength and ingenuity of young Americans who came of age in the ten War Relocation Authority camps and the Crystal City Department of Justice internment camp.

"The Yumiverse Mindful Coloring Book"
"The Yumiverse Mindful Coloring Book" | Photo: JANM

Exploring the Yumiverse - JANM (May 18, 2023)

On Thursday, May 18, the Japanese American National Museum welcomes artist Yumi Sakugawa for an evening of mindfulness centered around their new coloring book that will leave participants feeling more relaxed, less anxious and more creatively inspired. This interactive event will begin and end with guided meditation and provide space for creative exploration through coloring.

Free with RSVP. Art supplies and blank paper will be provided, but participants are welcome to bring their own supplies and purchase the coloring book for their own use! The Yumiverse Mindful Coloring Book is available at the JANM Store.

Hansei oysters at JACCC in Little Tokyo
Hansei | Photo: JACCC

Japanese American Cultural & Community Center

Since opening its doors in 1980, the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) has become one of the largest cultural art and community centers in the U.S.

On view in the George J. Doizaki Gallery, Keisho Okayama: Selected Works (May 6 - June 10, 2023) features paintings, drawings and masks. Okayama’s work bridged the worlds of abstraction and figurative observation. With a highly personal color palette and sense of space, he emphasized the spiritual and subconscious - his later works created a near-mystical light.

Now through August 31, JACCC presents Hansei, a pop-up dining experience by Chef Chris Ono. Through Hansei (meaning self-reflection) Ono explores his roots as a fourth generation Japanese American to champion the cuisine and culture of LA's Nikkei community. The three-part Hansei experience and multi-course tasting menu transitions throughout the Toshizo Watanabe Culinary Center and James Irvine Japanese Garden. Pricing is $175 per person, reservations at Tock.

2023 NEA Big Read: "Interior Chinatown" at the LAPL
2023 NEA Big Read: "Interior Chinatown" | Photo: LAPL

Los Angeles Public Library

The Los Angeles Public Library is hosting a month-long calendar of in-person and online events for all ages, from arts & crafts to film screenings, book clubs, author chats and live performances.

Numerous branches are hosting book discussions and workshops centered on this year's NEA Big Read selection, Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. As a companion to Yu's book, LAPL is offering a Teen Big Read: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

On Saturday, May 27, the Central Library is hosting several events: a screening of Ip Man, starring Donnie Yen; a Sumi-e Painting class; an online discussion of American Born Chinese; and Korean Spirits, a showcase of traditional Korean music, dance, and arts & crafts.

For the full calendar of AAPI Heritage Month events, visit the LAPL website.

"This Time" at the 2023 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
"This Time" | Photo: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival

Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (May 4-13, 2023)

Founded in 1983, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) is the largest film festival in Southern California dedicated to showcasing films by and about Asians and Pacific Islanders around the world. Now in its 39th year, the Festival presents 150 films and mediaworks that celebrate AAPI filmmakers and stories, attracting celebrities, civic and community leaders, industry pros and film enthusiasts.

LAAPFF sections include Narrative Features, Special Presentations, Documentaries, Cinema Musica, Pacific Cinewaves, Animation and Shorts Programs. This year's venues include the Aratani Theatre @ JACCC, JANM and Regal L.A. LIVE. For tickets and a complete schedule, visit the LAAPFF website.

"On This Side of the World" at East West Players
"On This Side of the World" | Photo: East West Players

"On This Side of the World" (May 11 - June 4, 2023)

East West Players (EWP) is renowned as the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color and the largest professional producer of AAPI theatrical work. For the second production of its 57th season, EWP presents the world premiere of On This Side of the World, featuring music and lyrics by Paulo K Tiról; and created with and directed by Noam Shapiro.

A woman flies from the Philippines to America with a one-way ticket and a suitcase full of stories collected from immigrants who came before her—tales of overseas workers, young lovers, and gossipy church ladies; snapshots of undocumented immigrants, millennial princesses and first-generation Americans. Suspended above the ocean, she replays these stories in her mind as she searches for the courage to embrace her future. On This Side of the World gives voices to Filipino immigrants navigating old lives and new beginnings 8,000 miles from home.

Tickets to On This Side of the World are on sale at the EWP website.

Bruce Lee exhibit at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
Bruce Lee exhibit at the Academy Museum | Photo: Joshua White, AMPAS

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

Opened in September 2021, the spectacular Academy Museum of Motion Pictures houses more than 13 million objects in a 300,000 square-foot campus designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano.

Martial arts icon Bruce Lee is featured in an exhibit that includes a blue suit he wore in Enter the Dragon, a pair of nunchaku, and The Way of the Dragon script with his drawings. Other artifacts in the museum include Ang Lee’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000) and Eiko Ishioka’s Best Costume Design award for Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

Sammo Hung in "Millionaires Express"
Sammo Hung in "Millionaires Express" | Photo: Academy Museum

"Sammo Hung: From Stuntman to Star" (May 5-27, 2023)

Located in the Saban Building of the Academy Museum, the 277-seat Ted Mann Theater offers curated screenings and special programs that include Oscar-winning films, family films, and rare and historical films - presented daily in an intimate and elegant art house setting.

Sammo Hung: From Stuntman to Star is a weekend series featuring the legendary Hong Kong action star and director. Screening at the Ted Mann Theater May 5-27, the movies showcase Hung's jaw-dropping stunts and fights, which are often infused with a touch of comedy at the expense of his portly, yet nimble, body.

"Circular Tray with Two Dragons Chasing a Flaming Pearl" at LACMA
"Circular Tray with Two Dragons Chasing a Flaming Pearl," © Museum Associates/LACMA

"The Five Directions" - LACMA (through May 14, 2023)

Located on Museum Row adjacent to the Academy Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection of nearly 149,000 objects that illuminate 6,000 years of artistic expression across the globe.

Now on view in the Resnick Pavilion through May 14, The Five Directions: Lacquer Through East Asia traces the flow of materials and ideas throughout the region. A natural polymer derived from tree sap, lacquer was a widely circulated and prized commodity. Featuring more than 80 works from LACMA’s collection, The Five Directions celebrates Japan, Korea, China and the Ryūkyū kingdom (Okinawa) as cultural meeting points and vital trade centers.

"Uncertain Journey" by Chiharu Shiota at the Hammer Museum
"Uncertain Journey" by Chiharu Shiota | Photo: Hammer Museum

Hammer Museum

The two decades-long transformation of the Hammer Museum culminated in March 2023 with the new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Cultural Center, which welcomes visitors to the Westwood museum with a street-level entrance at the corner of Wilshire and Westwood Boulevards.

Uncertain Journey, a dramatic and visceral installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota, is on view in the redesigned lobby through August 27.

Selected from a recent major gift of works to the Hammer by the Haudenschild family, Cruel Youth Diary (through May 14) focuses on pioneering Chinese photography and video from the 1990s and early 2000s - a period of tremendous social, political, and economic change in mainland China.

Blue13 Dance Company
Photo: Blue13 Dance Company

Blue13 Dance Company - The Wallis (May 12-13, 2023)

Situated at the intersection of diaspora and disruption, Blue13 Dance Company is an American dance ensemble led by artistic director Achinta S. McDaniel, a first-generation South Asian American. The company evokes a powerful spectrum of joy and resistance through rhythm, Bollywood and raw emotional expression.

The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts welcomes Blue13 to the Bram Goldsmith Theater on May 12 and 13. The program includes the world premiere of Restless Autumn. Restless Spring; Shaadi Medley, Dear Mr. Khan, a preview of Sounds Like Whoop. Looks Like Flash; and 1947.

"The Scripture of the Great Flower Ornament of the Buddha" at The Huntington Library
"Printed in 1085" | Photo: The Huntington Library

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

Founded in 1919, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens is world-renowned as a cultural, research and educational center. Two of its must-see gardens are the beloved Japanese Garden and Liu Fang Yuan ("Garden of Flowing Fragrance"), one of the largest classical-style Chinese gardens in the world.

Crafting a Garden: Inside the Creation of Liu Fang Yuan is on view through May 29 in the Studio for Lodging the Mind. The exhibit sheds light on the intricacies of the Chinese Garden through models, photos, tools and videos that tell the story of its design and construction.

On view at the Library West Hall through December 4, Printed in 1085: The Chinese Buddhist Canon from the Song Dynasty features the oldest printed book in The Huntington's collection, The Scripture of the Great Flower Ornament of the Buddha. The accordion-style sacred text is displayed unfolded in a 20-foot custom case.

On Saturday, May 20, join Chinese brush painting instructor Peifang Liang for a hands-on Family Workshop inspired by the Dragon Boat Festival, an annual Chinese celebration in which brightly colored, dragon-shaped boats are raced in rivers across China. Ticket includes admission to The Huntington and all supplies for one child and one accompanying adult.

Chinese American composer Nathan Wang, the 2022-23 Cheng Family Foundation Visiting Artist in the Chinese Garden, presents Shanghai’s World Emporium, an original musical developed over his yearlong residency. Two evening performances and one matinee on May 20-21. Advance tickets required - seating is first-come, first-served.

Chess Set from India at the Norton Simon Museum
Chess Set from India (c. 1850), The Norton Simon Foundation, Gift of Mr. Norton Simon, © The Norton Simon Foundation

Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum houses a world-renowned collection of art from South and Southeast Asia, including examples of the rich sculptural and painting traditions that developed in that region for more than 2,000 years. Sculptures from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Cambodia, and Thailand are on permanent display, as are selected works from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), China, Vietnam and Indonesia.

"Global Asias" at USC Pacific Asia Museum
"Global Asias" | Photo: USC Pacific Asia Museum

"Global Asias" - USC Pacific Asia Museum

Dedicated to the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands, the USC Pacific Asia Museum (PAM) has a collection of over 15,000 objects, spanning more than 4,000 years of the region from Persia to the Pacific Islands.

On view at PAM through June 25, Global Asias examines the cosmopolitan, playful and subversive Asian and Asian American contemporary art scene. The exhibition highlights the work of 15 artists of Asian heritage who draw on a rich array of motifs, techniques, and cultural motivations to construct complex identities in a modern global context.

Patrick Landeza & Sons at Grand Annex Music Hall in San Pedro
Patrick Landeza & Sons | Photo: Grand Vision Foundation

Grand Annex Music Hall

The nonprofit Grand Vision Foundation is the official Friends Group of the historic Warner Grand Theatre in the San Pedro Arts District. Grand Vision owns and operates the 150-seat Grand Annex Music Hall, which is located on the same 6th Street block as the Warner Grand and the foundation's office.

Since 2013, Grand Vision has partnered with leading taiko instructors to bring the Japanese art form to the South Bay. Every Monday night in May and June, Grand Vision hosts Team Taiko classes at The Annex led by Yeeman “ManMan” Mui (they/them) - a queer, non-binary, HongKonger, multidisciplinary taiko artist and facilitator based in Los Angeles, who strives to build an equitable landscape for the purpose of fostering creativity. Classes are offered in-person and streamed live via Zoom.

Hot off the heels of his historic second Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award win (Hawaiian GRAMMY), Patrick Landeza heads to The Annex on May 20 with his new musical trio, Patrick Landeza & Sons. The group includes star Hawaiian steel guitar player Justin Firmeza and PJ Landeza on bass guitar. Come celebrate an evening of Hawaiian music, hula and aloha!

Pacific Islander Festival at Aquarium of the Pacific
Pacific Islander Festival | Photo: Aquarium of the Pacific

Pacific Islander Festival (June 3-4, 2023)

Now in its 20th year, the Pacific Islander Festival will feature traditional music and dance, cultural displays, and craft demonstrations. Hosted by the Aquarium of the Pacific, the festival will take place from 9am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday, June 3 and 4. Among the cultures that will be celebrated include Hawaiian, Tahitian, Samoan, Chamorro, Marshallese and Maori.