Asian Americans to celebrate heritage, arts, community with performances at the DIA

Erica Hobbs
Special to The Detroit News

Midwest Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) musicians, dancers and poets will unite Saturday for an evening celebrating the collaboration, healing and spirit of their community during the “Celebrating Asian American Arts, Community & Culture” performance. The free event will take place at the Detroit Film Theatre inside the Detroit Institute of Arts and is part of a series of events commemorating the 40th anniversary of the murder of Chinese-American Vincent Chin.

“Our hope is that through song, poetry and movement, these artists will really affirm our call for future generations to carry the torch of Vincent Chin’s legacy,” said event director Rebeka Islam. “And in the time that we’re in right now, in these times of turmoil, it’s transformative and healing. It was important 40 years ago, and it’s equally important today.”

Nobuko Miyamoto

Chin was bludgeoned to death outside a Highland Park bar in 1982 following a spat with two white men he had met inside. The two men allegedly yelled racial slurs during the argument, amid a time of growing anger against the Japanese who were perceived as stealing American automotive jobs. The men were fined $3,000 and sentenced to three years of probation with no jail time, and launched a pivotal moment for Asian American activism. 

“One of the reasons why things like this happens is that we are dehumanized,” said Japanese-American Nobuko Miyamoto, a singer, composer, artist and activist. “And the way we become human is by telling our story and telling it through culture, through writing, through performance, through music, theater, dance; all of it is really important.”

Joined by producer and composer Derek Nakamoto, bassist Juan Perez and singer and percussionist Asiyah Ayubbi, Nobuko will perform original music, including a song written about Chin, as well as Chinese-American activist and Detroiter Grace Lee Boggs. Nobuko said her music is rooted in the Asian American movement of the early 1970s, and she will perform music from that era, including music from her album “A Grain of Sand.” 

The Electronic Music Ensemble of Wayne State, directed by Korean-American Joo Won Park, right.

She’ll also perform new material from her latest record “120,000 Stories,” referencing the number of Japanese Americans who were put in camps during World War II, including her own family when she was a child. 

“That experience of being sort of a refugee in America was one of my foundational experiences,” she said. “It was only really through exposure to the arts that I healed from the trauma, and I had a form of expression.”

The Electronic Music Ensemble of Wayne State, directed by Korean-American Joo Won Park, will also perform, playing Park’s original music on keyboards, synthesizers and laptop computers. 

“I find in Michigan, in this area, there are a noticeable number of Asian American artists, but they’re not represented well,” Park said. “It’s hard to find, so I think doing this concert where Asian Artists are featured, in a larger audience, has a meaning. It basically says… that there are creatives of Asian American heritage who are active and doing interesting things in the area.”

Other performers include poet Frances Kai-Hwa Wang and dancer Joori Jung. 

Producer and composer Derek Nakamoto

Guests must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test and wear a mask to enter.

Park said the performance is a great way to see and meet active Asian Americans artists.  

“Usually we are scattered, we do our own things, but you get to see people from music, dance and poetry in one place, so I think it’s a good place to meet others in the area,” he said. “For those who are aspiring to be a part of the Detroit arts community, it’s a good opportunity to see the diversity of the culture scene, and it’s nurturing.”

'Celebrating Asian American Arts, Community & Culture'

7-9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Detroit Film Theatre, located within the Detroit Institute of Arts at 5200 John R. Street, Detroit.

For more information and a full list of events, go here.