In mid-May, Ka Lei Hali’a O Ka Lokelani, a traditional Hawaiian music ensemble based in Aloha, Oregon, performed at the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Old Town Portland.
The show was part of an ongoing series at the garden for Asian-Pacific Americaan Heritage Month this May.
A garden member originally from Hawaii visited specifically to see Ka Lei Hali’a O Ka Lokelani.
“After the performance, she came up to me and she actually had tears in her eyes,” said Maggie Lim, cultural program manager at the garden.
As Lim remembers it, the woman was thankful for the ensemble’s preservation of Hawaiian tradition and language. The performance reminded her of home.
Stories like that are what make May so special for Lim, who has worked at the garden for about eight years.
“To me, this garden is a gem in Portland,” she said. “It represents Chinatown — old-time Chinatown.”
May’s calendar of events at Lan Su highlight Northwest-based dance groups and cultural organizations representing everywhere from India to Japan to Cambodia to Hawaii and beyond.
Saturday brought Portland Taiko to the garden.
A taiko is a Japanese barrel drum, literally translated as “fat drum.” But the word “taiko” has come to refer to drum ensembles who utilize the instrument.
Taiko is at once graceful and frenetic. It’s as much dance as it is percussion.
Imagine an entire band playing one big drum set spread across the stage. The players may slap the biggest bass drum just before swirling across the stage to play on another, smaller drum. Arms flail in rhythm and every dance move ends in a beat, all coming together to form a coherent song.
Sureewan Allahverdian, a garden regular who visited for Saturday’s performance, was impressed by the taiko group.
“This is my first time for this one,” she said. “I’m Thai, so the music is very similar. I like it.”
Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month began in the late 1970s. President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution designating the first 10 days of May for the annual celebration. President George H.W. Bush signed a bill to extend the celebration to the full month of May in 1990.
Lim said May provides an opening for people to learn about the rich variety of Asian-Pacific traditions being preserved and taught throughout the Northwest.
“We open up the garden and we invite all the different cultures into the garden,” Lim said.
“All the cultures are like a spider web,” she added, holding up her hands and weaving her fingers together. “It’s intricate, you know?”
Lan Su Chinese Garden will continue its celebration of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month through the end of May with Saturday and Sunday performances. See a full schedule at the garden’s website.