Rows and rows of vendors at the Southeast Asian Market in FDR Park. (Facebook/SEA Market)

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May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which means each day is packed full of countless events as the country celebrates the people, cultures and languages that make up the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora. 

In just the first week, Mattel debuted a Barbie doll honoring pioneering Hollywood actress Anna May Wong, the fifth person featured on the coins (made in Philly!) in the U.S. Mint American Women Quarters program, which continues through 2025 and will also feature dancer Edith Kanaka’ole and former Hawaii Rep. Patsy Mink. Philadelphia has held events around everything from art on Black and Asian solidarity to three centuries of South Asian American history.

Philadelphians still have plenty of chances to explore and appreciate AAPI culture over the next few weeks.

Here’s a curated guide, in chronological order, to the many festivals, book readings, walking tours, volunteer days, educational workshops, and more taking place around Philly this month. 

AAPI mental health seminar

Philly Solidarity and Mango Tree Counseling & Consulting team up to hold this mental health seminar on needs of and challenges faced by people of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent. Each seminar is free and open to the public, focused on a different theme around mental wellness, then recorded and posted on YouTube here. Future seminars this calendar year are scheduled for Sept.14, Oct. 12, and Nov. 9.

Virtual | 8 p.m. May 11 | Free | RSVP required to get Zoom link

Southeast Asian Market at FDR Park

A classic warm weather destination, the Southeast Asian Market at FDR Park is a must for anyone interested in food and/or Southeast Asian culture. 

Open every Saturday and Sunday from April through October — plus the three-day weekends for Memorial Day and Labor Day — the market has been an informal cultural and economic hub for refugees and immigrants from Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, and Laos for over 35 years. It wasn’t until 2021 that a Vendors Association of FDR Park was established, ensuring the gathering of entrepreneurs and families will continue to thrive in the welcoming space they’ve carved out. 

Season 1 is from April to June, and is found near the Broad Street exit (Picnic Area 17). Season 2 runs from July to October and is found near the Taney Baseball field (Picnic Area 11).

FDR Park at 1500 Pattison Ave. & S. Broad St. | 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday | Free 

American Chinese Museum 

Launched in 2022 and open by appointment only, this fledgling museum near Oxford Circle is home to a nationally recognized historical exhibit on the history of Chinese in America. It debuted at the New York Historical Society in 2014, moved to San Francisco’s Chinese Historical Society of America, and then was acquired by the newly formed American Chinese Museum in Philadelphia last year. 

The exhibit spans the 19th century to the present day, from gold miners and railroad workers to the Chinese American Exclusion Act, the history of Chinese food in America, and U.S.-China relations. 

7345-7347 Oxford Ave | Daily, by appointment only | Free, but donations are welcome

South Asian listening circle

This discussion group will be a closed space for individuals of South Asian descent and will focus on the intersections of South Asian identity and mental wellness, and is hosted by Mango Tree Counseling & Consulting every last Thursday of the month. During AAPI Heritage Month, however, the event will be on May 18. 

Virtual | 8 p.m., May 18 | Free | RSVP required to get the Zoom link

Revolution Remix: Philly Walking Tour

Philadelphia walking tours are a common sight, especially around Old City, but this may be a first: a walking tour of the city as told/seen through the lens of South Asian Americans. 

Join the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) for this unique excursion full of stories you’ve never heard even as you walk familiar streets and see frequently visited sites. The 2.5-hour, 1.5-mile tour begins at the Liberty Bell and ends at Race Street Pier, and spans history from the 1780s through the present. And no tour would be complete without a curated soundtrack, which will include original music by Seti X, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Anju, Zain Alam, and Grammy-award winner Arooj Aftab.

Made possible with support from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the tour is wheelchair accessible and includes stops for rest, a bathroom break, and water break.

Liberty Bell at 526 Market St. | 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. May 20 | $40 general, $25 students | Purchase a ticket or join the waitlist here

Book Harvest spring book swap 

Book Harvest is emerging from their winter hibernation with a book swap at Cira Green rooftop overlooking the Schuylkill next to the FMC Tower. The pop-up bookstore centers writers and stories from across the Asian and Pacific Islander diaspora, but this event is focused on swaps instead of sales. Bring a book you enjoyed and pick up a new one someone else brought. All genres for all ages are welcome. 

Face masks, preferably a KN95 or N95 mask, are required at this event in order to welcome immunocompromised and disabled readers.

129 South St. | 5 to 8 p.m. May 20 | Free | Registration recommended.

Gamelan Gita Santi Spring Concert 

After successful spring and fall concerts last year, Philly-based Indonesian dance ensemble Modero & Company returns with the Gamelan Gita Santi spring concert, this time at the Southeast Asian Market in FDR Park. 

Past concerts have been in partnership with the Philadelphia Folklore Project as part of the Folk Arts and Social Change Residency program to strengthen cultural connections, build generational bridges, and address underemployment of skilled traditional artists. 

FDR Park | 3 p.m. May 21 | Free

Ouchigohan! – Shojin Ryori

This month’s unique Ouchigohan event by the Japan Society of Philadelphia features special guest, Reverend Daiko Matsuyama from Taizo-in Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, who will teach about shojin ryori, which refers to traditional Buddhist cooking eaten by monks.

The event features a presentation, Q&A, and showcase on how to cook and eat traditional temple food. Attendees can choose to cook along with Debra Samuels from Table for Two. On the menu is a vegetarian soup accompanied by rice mixed with greens, and kinpira, a side dish of simmered vegetables in Japanese seasonings.

Virtual | 6 to 7:30 p.m. May 21 | $10/$15 | Ticket required to get Zoom link

Discovering South Asia: Resources at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania 

Penn postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Sarath Pillai recently completed a subject guide for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s South Asia Collections, and this event offers participants a look at what information is available for genealogical and historical research. 

Center for the Advanced Study of India. Dr. Pillai recently completed a subject guide for HSP’s South Asian collections. 

The South Asia Collections consist of archival and printed materials from the 16th century to the present day, and range from rare and old books to private papers of Philadelphia-based American merchants and traders, as well as oral history transcripts, periodicals, and records of South Asian community organizations in the Delaware Valley.

Virtual | 6:30 p.m. May 23 | Free | RSVP required to get Zoom link

Defining Success: Asian American Dream panel

This panel discussion is billed as a signature event of the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, and will highlight five Asian Americans sharing the story of their career and entrepreneurship journey. 

Speakers include leaders from Youth Philly Living, Results by Design Coaching, YD Fortune, Sunoco A Plus, and Secret Service. 

Rivers Casino at 1001 N. Delaware Ave. | 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 24 | $50 for non-members, $35 for members | Purchase tickets here

‘Angel Dose’ documentary premiere: Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival 

The race to get expiring COVID-19 vaccines to homebound patients was a story playing out in cities and towns across the U.S. in 2021 and 2022. That experience is captured here in a short documentary about a Philadelphia nurse. The film, titled “Angel Dose,” is having its premiere as part of the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

The PFS Bourse Theater hosts an advance screening, where director Sami Khan and film subject Tarik Khan will be speaking on the film and real life experience. Or catch the broadcast premiere later that week on WHYY on Monday, May 29, at 9:30 p.m. 

400 Ranstead St. at PFS Bourse Theater | 8 p.m. May 24 | Free | RSVP required for seating

Creative Resilient Youth Takeover: Art and Mental Health Exhibition

Teen mental health collective Creative Resilient Youth (CRY) hosts a week-long art exhibit featuring artist talks, panel discussions, and other youth-centered programming at Asian Arts Initiative during the last week of May, which is both Mental Health Awareness month and Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month. 

The exhibit kicks off on May 26 with an opening reception and features a closing panel discussion on Thursday, June 1.

The exhibit will include artwork created by emerging Philadelphia-area artists and self-portrait collage work about identity and social pressures in partnership with Asian Arts Initiative’s Young Artist Workshop.

The annual showcase features artwork by CRY’s graduating cohort, who dedicated two years to exploring mental health, artmaking, design, and political education. 

1219 Vine St. at the Asian Arts Initiative | 5 to 9 p.m. May 26, and  2 to 7 p.m. May 27- 31 | Free | Registration / appointment required.

Asian Heritage Month celebration at the Willows Mansion 

Villanova’s Willows Mansion will feature the art of Dr. E-ni Foo, Josephine Tsai and Wu Shu from Friday, May 26 to Saturday, May 27 at a celebration that also includes kid-friendly activities. A separate ticketed opening reception on Thursday, May 25 will allow guests to buy the artwork on display. 

490 Darby Paoli Road, VIllanova | 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, May 25-26; 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 27 | $40 for May 25, Free for May 26-27

The Asian American Journalists Association Philadelphia chapter contributed to this list.

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Heather J. Chin

Heather Chin is Billy Penn's deputy editor. She previously was a digital producer at the Inquirer and an editor at outlets both print and digital — from national breaking news service Flipboard to hyperlocal...