Asian Avenue Magazine - May 2022

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May 2022

Volume 17 Issue 5

2022 Asian American Heroes of Colorado


As someone who grew up in Colorado—attending Denver Public Schools, working in the community, and now raising children in Aurora—I have witnessed how much our AAPI community has grown and flourished! This year’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we have so much to be proud of and so much to celebrate! It has truly been an honor to have shared the stories of 77 Asian American heroes in our community since 2009, including this year’s seven Asian American Hero of Colorado awardees! These are all champions of generosity and humanity that I will forever be inspired by! Thank you to writer Thy Vo and photographer Brandon Iwamoto for putting together these beautiful tributes for these beautiful individuals!

Connect with us! @asianavemag

With so many community events, new Asian-owned businesses, Asian Americans running for office, there was a lot to cover this month! If you are a registered Democrat in Denver, be sure to learn more about Neal Walia and Johnnie Nguyen who will be on the primary ballot this June. Since the start of the pandemic, we decreased our pages to 24. But starting this month, we look forward to getting our content and pages back up to 32! Thank you to our contributing writers and especially to our editorial director Mary J. Schultz for all your help and support each month!

We hope to see you on Saturday, May 21 to celebrate the 2022 Asian American Heroes of Colorado Awards Ceremony! Get tickets at:

To all our supporters: we hope you will celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, whether it’s visiting animals at the Denver Zoo on May 14-15, enjoying Asian food and vendors at a community event, or reading an AAPI-authored book! Flip through this month’s edition for more ideas! While we celebrate our community every month of the year, May is always our time to shine!

Annie Guo VanDan, President Asian Avenue magazine

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May 2022 | President’s Note



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contents MAY 2022



19 7 10

EVENTS: May 2022 Calendar COMMUNITY NEWS: City of Denver issues formal apology for history of anti-Chinese racism

25 26

Colorado Sikhs launch project to tell the history of the Sikh community


GET OUT THE VOTE: South Asian Neal Walia runs for U.S. Congress in Denver district Vietnamese Johnnie Nguyen runs for CU Board of Regents

15 24

COVER STORY: Seven awardees are honored for as year’s Asian American Heroes of Colorado FOOD: Chef Thoa Nguyen achieves her dream of opening a bakery

Graphic Designer/Videographer LIJIN ZHAO Web Designer JASON ZHANG

INSIDE STORY: The Pagoda Lab builds an ecosystem of entrepreneurs FEATURES: Swab your cheek to save a life like Caryn’s and other AAPIs Hawaiian leis celebrate graduations this time of year


ON SCENE: Denver Asian Collective packs the theater for movie screening Wat Buddhawaram celebrates Songkran Festival, Thai New Year ActivateWork champions a diverse workforce in IT and healthcare Colorado’s API Food Culture: Rice and Resilience now at History Colorado

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ASIAN AVENUE MAGAZINE P.O. Box 221748 Denver, CO 80222 Tel: 303.937.6888 E-mail:


May 2022 | President’s Note

Find us @AsianAveMag #AsianAveMag


Contact us at or visit our new office at 14015 E. Evans Avenue Aurora, CO 80014 on the cover In this issue, we recognize the 2022 Asian American Heroes of Colorado. Each year, nominations are sent in and a selection committee comprised of AAPI organizations select the award recipients. In its 13th year, Colorado Asian Culture and Education Network is proud to announce this year’s seven awardees (from left): Deborah Yim, Alyssa Nilemo, Dr. William Wei, Gary Yamashita, Dr. Sumiko Tanaka Hennessy, Mimi Luong Ye, and Joanne Liu. Photo Credit: Brandon Iwamoto Asian Avenue magazine (ISSN 1932-1449) reserves all copyrights to this issue. No parts of this edition can be reproduced in any manner without written permission. The views expressed in articles are the authors’ and not necessarily those of Asian Avenue magazine.

Looking to promote your business? Asian Avenue magazine offers businesses a cost-effective way to reach consumers in the Denver/Aurora metro areas and beyond. For more information, call 303.937.6888 or e-mail hello@ for our media kit and ad rates. Asian Avenue magazine is in association with the Colorado Asian Culture and Education Network.

upcoming events AAPI Wellness Day: A Space for Generational Healing

Sat. May 7, 10am to 3pm

Cost: $30 Members | $35 Non-members History Colorado, 1200 N Broadway, Denver More information at:

The Denver Zoo is proud to partner with the Filipino-American Community of Colorado to host the first-ever Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI+) Festival at the Zoo. Together, we will celebrate the diversity of Colorado’s Asian community through multicultural dance, music, art, workshop and community engagement; and the Zoo’s unique connection to Asian cultures and countries through our animals and conservation programs. Guests welcome to dress in the traditional culture they identify with.

Celebrate joy, reclamation, resilience, and activism through Asian diasporic practices that address the somatic, mental, and spiritual scars in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Vendors, practitioners, healers, performers, artists, and speakers will offer an exploration into how heritage modalities, self and community care, activism, and strength move through healing.

Sun. May 15, 1pm to 4pm

Asian American and Pacific Islander+ Festival

Pagoda Lab, 1000 S Grove St, Denver Cost: Free and open to general public Limited tickets available via EventBrite.

Denver Zoo, 2300 Steele St, Denver Cost: Festival included with zoo admission More information at:

ACEL - Denver is co-hosting a cultural event with Pagoda Lab at their new facility in Denver to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month. There will

Weekend of May 14-15, 11am to 5pm

Culture Collab

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Sun. May 15, 1:30pm and 4:30pm Shows Lakewood Cultural Center 470 S Allison Pkwy, Lakewood Cost: $25 per ticket More information at: After 2 challenging years, Mudra Dance Studio is ready to celebrate life, love and diversity through a beautiful blend of Mudra’s students and Gurus rejoicing their learning and teaching and sharing that happiness through dance, music and audiovisual magic on stage! Name Address City/State/Zip Cell E-mail Comments

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Denver issues formal apology for history of anti-Chinese racism Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) often feel invisible, ignored in the media, and treated like outsiders, always the “other.” But on Saturday, April 16, AAPIs knew they were seen and heard, and enjoyed the national spotlight of being in the middle of a big news story. The City of Denver gave a formal apology letter for an anti-Chinese race riot that destroyed what had been a thriving Chinatown district in 1880. Most people today don’t even know there had been a Chinatown in Lower Downtown, or LoDo, which today is (in spite of lingering covid) a bustling nightlife haven anchored by Union Station, Coors Field where the Colorado Rockies baseball team plays, and Sakura Square, a hub for the city’s Japanese community. On October 31, 1880, a fight broke out in a pool hall and spilled out into the streets, where thousands of Whites rampaged through Chinatown and lynched one Chinese man, Look Young, and hung him from a lamp post. The Chinese were driven out but returned to rebuild their homes and businesses, although by the early 20th century they had dispersed and mostly moved away. Now, Denver has become the fifth city in the U.S. to offer an official apology for past wrongs against Chinese and other Asian immigrants, with a heartfelt apol-


May 2022 | Community News

ogy for the 1880 race riot and the anti-Asian racism throughout history even to today. The apology is especially significant because it’s the first one given by a city outside of California, where previous cities’ Asian populations can be more than 30 percent. Denver’s Asian population is less than four percent. Mayor Michael B. Hancock gave prepared remarks and read the official apology letter to a full room at the University of Colorado Denver campus, and signed copies of the letter for two families who are descendants of Chinese who lived in Chinatown. He also gave them commemorative gold community coins – an honor he said can only be bestowed by the sitting mayor. He also gave a copy of the apology and a coin to Colorado Asian Pacific United (CAPU), the organization that had brought the history of Chinatown to light since it was formed last year, and has worked to re-envision the cultural richness of the Chinese presence in Denver. “Denver can deal with the continued consequences of past violence and discrimination such as the recent surge in anti-Asian hate crimes across the nation. As part of this process, the city is committed to supporting the establishment of an Asian Pacific Historic District, sponsoring the painting of public murals depicting the history and culture of Asian Pacific Col-

Article and Photos By Gil Asakawa oradans, partnering on the development of a public education program about Asian Pacific Coloradans, and founding an Asian Pacific American community museum, which will be the first of its kind in the Rocky Mountain Region,” Hancock said. The Mayor received applause throughout his remarks, but for the AAPI community leaders present, perhaps the most welcome news at the event was the announcement that the owner of a building near Coors Field that has sported the sole reminder of the once-thriving Chinatown: a racially insensitive “Lower Downtown Walking Tour” plaque, had agreed to allow the plaque to be removed. The members of CAPU, and the Denver AAPI Commission before them, had tried contacting the owner for permission to remove or replace the plaque, which has been on the building since 1992, for more than two years, but had never succeeded in getting any response. Denver’s new Chief Equity Officer, Aisha Rousseau, got the okay for the plaque to come down. CAPU members are now planning a public event for the plaque’s removal, as well as how to move forward celebrating the history of Chinatown with new, more appropriate, and educational elements like kiosks and murals in the area. The event ended with a raucous Lion Dance performance by Shaolin Hung Mei Kung Fu Academy.

Colorado Sikhs and partners launch new project to tell the stories and histories of the Sikh community Have you ever wondered when Sikhs first came to Colorado? What did they do for work? Is the current history of the Sikh community being documented? Colorado Sikhs, in collaboration with Alpine Archaeological Consultants and The Sikh American History Project, is excited to share their newest project to collect, document, and share the history of Sikhs in Colorado, a community that has experienced historical erasure. With support from the State Historical Fund of Colorado, this project will build the capacity of the Sikh community to present and narrate their own stories, while reinforcing that the Sikh community’s history is part of Colorado’s history. The vision of this project first began in February 2021, when Tejpaul Singh Bainiwal, a PhD Candidate at University of California- Riverside, took part in a panel discussion at the Saving Places Conference, titled, “Preservation Education—Shaping the Future of a Movement.” Here, Bainiwal spoke about Sikh American historic preservation and the lack of research about the Sikh American community, specifically in Colorado. “There are certain aspects about Sikh American history that folks are aware of such as Stockton Gurdwara being the first gurdwara in the nation or Dalip Singh Saund becoming the first Asian American Member of Congress,” said Bainiwal. “However, the history of Sikhs in Colorado has never been researched. I was fortunate enough to find one sentence in

Photos from Colorado Sikhs events

a book about Sikhs in Colorado in the early 1900s which eventually resulted in this grant. I’m excited to have a state-funded project that focuses solely on uncovering the history of Sikhs in Colorado!” Michelle Slaughter, Regional Operations Manager at Alpine Archaeological Consultants (Alpine), attended the session and reached out to Bainiwal after his presentation, which resulted in a conversation about possibly conducting a statewide research project on the historic presence of Sikhs in Colorado. In collaboration with Sara Millward at Alpine and Colorado Sikhs, the team was formed to focus exclusively on the history of the community. “We’re excited and honored to have this opportunity to collaborate with Colorado Sikhs. There’s so much information and so many stories left out of what is accepted as Colorado’s history. Losing those stories forever would be tragic, so now is the time to work with the Sikh community and fill in the gaps in our historic record,” said Slaughter and Millward. During their initial research, the team discovered that prior to the 1950s, there were more newspaper references to Sikhs in small rural communities such as Rocky Ford in southeastern Colorado and Derby in Adams County, than in high population areas like Denver. While these references were not abundant, they suggest that

Sikhs were practicing agriculture in rural communities then. Today, Colorado is home to one of the fastest-growing populations of Sikhs in the United States. For instance, due to the growing IT sector and trucking industry, Colorado often serves as the main hub for other states with Sikhs, including Wyoming and New Mexico. “I am beyond excited to see the Sikh community being represented through this historical research. Growing up here, I always assumed that the Sikh community has a rich history in places like Stockton or New York City, but never realized that we too, have a history here, and it is worth being celebrated,” shared Naureen Singh, Policy Director, Colorado Sikhs. “Our community is visible and vibrant, and the time is now to collect and preserve our history.” Colorado Sikhs is a community-based, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2012 to serve the needs of the growing population of Sikhs in Colorado. The mission of Colorado Sikhs is to promote diversity, understanding, and community development through education and civic engagement to create mutually respectful relationships with all Colorado citizens and communities. To stay up to date with this project, visit

Community News | Asian Avenue Magazine


Neal Walia runs for U.S. Congress to “DO DENVER BETTER” Learn more about Neal Walia’s campaign, the issues he will work to address, and sign up to volunteer at:

Neal Walia, is running for Congress in Colorado’s First Congressional District (CD-1) which is based primarily in the city of Denver. On June 28, 2022, the Democratic primary election results will determine if Walia advances to the general election in November and if the city of Denver will have its first person of color in this seat in U.S. Congress, as no Republican candidates have registered for this year’s general election. A son of Indian immigrants, Walia was born in Seattle, Washington and moved to Denver at the age of 11. He would later attend CU-Boulder for undergrad CU-Denver for a dual master’s degree in criminal justice and public administration. “I am running because I want to be a champion for our most vulnerable communities,” said Walia. “I want our communities to have a representative who lives their struggles and will fight to fix them, as if their lives depended on it, because my life does.”


May 2022 | Get Out the Vote

Walia is running against incumbent Diana DeGette, who is the longest-serving member of the Colorado Delegation. She has been been representing the Denver area in Congress since 1997 and would be seeking her 14th term in Congress. Walia has said that Denver needs “a new generation of leadership,” as he has received numerous endorsements from Colorado elected officials including PK Kaiser, Arapahoe County Assessor; Obi Ezeadi, Westminster City Councilor, and Joe Salazer, former Colorado State Representative. Walia previously worked for the National Governors Association and Governor John Hickenlooper’s Office of Community Partnerships. As a progressive candidate, he will work to establish a green economy, create a system with housing for all, and ensure a commitment to small business. He said: “Small business ownership has been one of the most meaningful pathways that have allowed our communities to build a better life for our families. Denver’s small business community, in particular the AAPI small business community, has been instrumental in moving this

campaign forward and creating this historic moment. I’m incredibly grateful for the support we have received and am committed now more than ever to champion our people in the halls of Congress.” Growing up in an immigrant family, he saw the journey of his parents from their beginnings as service industry workers to their current careers as educators, which taught him what is possible when all people are given the opportunity to succeed. “Immigrants from around the world, especially Asian Americans, have long been a key player in the building of this country: socially, economically and politically. And whether you are in immigrant, a refugee or asylum seeker it is a key priority for me to build specific pathways for our families and communities to gain permanent citizenships.” If you are a registered Democrat in Denver (CD-1), you will have the opportunity to vote for Neal Walia in the June 28 primary election! Look for his name on the ballot!

Photo on Left: Walia’s dad proudly adjusts his tie before he gives a speech.


Colorado, is running for the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents in Congressional District 1 (Denver). As a Vietnamese American, he will advocate for firstgeneration and diverse students across the state.

A Dedication to Public Service

Campaign Priorities

Johnnie Nguyen, 26, is deeply dedicated to public service. He has worked as a legislative aide in the Colorado House of Representatives, has taught for the “Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation” (which focuses on underserved students in Metro Denver), taught constitutional law to diverse high schoolers to ensure awareness of their rights as they prepared for adulthood, worked as a Constituent Advocate for US Senator John W. Hickenlooper, and so much more. Additionally, Johnnie served in national leadership roles, such as the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association. There, he oversaw the organization’s $84M budget and general operations.

Nguyen’s campaign for CU Regent focuses on ensuring that all Coloradans have access to a quality education at CU. CU Regents oversee roughly a $5.2 billion-dollar economic impact while making fundamental policy decisions on behalf of all CU campuses. CU is also the third largest employer in Colorado. Nguyen’s top priorities are to create a health insurance plan for CU Denver students, to support gun safety measures, supporting diverse and first-generation students, to prioritize mental health issues, and to support CU athletics.

Coming to the US as Vietnamese Refugees During the Vietnam War, Johnnie Nguyen’s grandfather fought alongside Americans as the Chief of Police for the Southern Republic Army of Vietnam. After the Fall of Saigon, he became a prisoner of war, and his parents fled to the US as refugees. Upon arrival, they worked as factory laborers, dishwashers, and in nail salons to put food on the table. Eventually, they started their own landscaping business in Denver were able to provide for Nguyen and his sisters. The stories of adversity his family shared with him over the dinner table taught him the privileges he had by being born in the US States as a citizen.

Growing up, despite facing issues with racism, having English as his second language, and being in terribly underfunded schools, through the empowerment of his parent’s resilience the resources provided at the University of Colorado (“CU”), Nguyen became the first in his family to graduate high school, college, and law school. He attended CU Denver for his undergraduate and CU Boulder for law school. Nguyen said: “I had to make the most out of an opportunity that my ancestors would have dreamed of. Now, I’m in a position of privilege to give back to the communities that have given me everything.”

Note: Vietnamese American Cindy Dang was appointed as a judge of the Adams County Court in Colorado in 2016. She won in the retention election in November 2018 and will serve through January 10, 2023.

Making History If elected, Johnnie will be the first Vietnamese American to hold elected office in Colorado and will become the first openly gay member of the CU Board of Regents. Johnnie’s campaign has been endorsed by over 40+ elected officials. Just recently, he made the Democratic primary ballot with the most support amongst all candidates running.

Learn more about his campaign at

Connect with him via e-mail at Get Out the Vote | Asian Avenue Magazine



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In its 13th year, Colorado Asian Culture and Education Network presents the... Written by Thy Vo Photos by Brandon Iwamoto

2022 Asian American Heroes of Colorado From left: Deborah Yim, Alyssa Nilemo, Dr. William Wei, Gary Yamashita, Dr. Sumiko Tanaka Hennessy, Mimi Luong Ye, and Joanne Liu Young Hero Award: Alyssa Nilemo • Executive Director, Asian Chamber Foundation of Colorado • Dharma School Superintendent, Denver Buddhist Temple • Mirai Generations Leadership Program Graduate, Sakura Foundation Mimi Luong Ye • Co-owner, Truong An Gifts • Founder, Sweetest Day CO Gary Yamashita • Chief Executive Officer, Sakura Square LLC • Executive Director, Sakura Foundation • Community Grantmaking Committee, Rose Community Foundation Joanne Liu • Co-Founder & CEO, Asian Girls Ignite • Chair, Colorado Asian Pacific United • Commissioner, Denver Asian American Pacific Islander Commission

Dr. William Wei • State Historian, History Colorado • Boardmember, Colorado Asian Pacific United • History Professor, University of Colorado Deborah Yim • Owner & Managing Attorney, Primera Law Group • President-Elect, Asian Pacific American Bar Association • Commissioner, Denver Immigrant and Refugee Commission • Legal Counsel, Asian Real Estate Association of Greater Denver Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Sumiko Tanaka Hennessy • Founding boardmember and former Executive Director, Asian Pacific Development Center • Co-founder, Asian Chamber of Commerce • Co-founder, Crossroads for Social Work • Former boardmember, Women’s Foundation of Colorado 77 outstanding individuals have received this award since 2009. See past recipients in Asian Avenue’s April 2022 issue.

2022 Asian American Hero of Colorado Awards Ceremony Saturday, May 21, 2022 | 10am to 12pm Happy Living and Wellness Center 14015 E Evans Avenue, Aurora, CO 80014 Tickets: General $40 | Student $30 Table of 8 for $280 Get tickets at: Each year, in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the awards ceremony honors an extraordinary group of local heroes in May. Join us to hear their inspiring stories as we recognize this year’s awardees over a dim sum and sushi brunch. This year’s awardees were selected by: Asian Chamber of Commerce, Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Asian Pacific Development Center, Aurora Asian/Pacific Community Partnership, Colorado Asian Culture and Education Network, Colorado Dragon Boat, Community Organizing for Radical Empathy, Sakura Foundation, Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, National Association of Asian American Professionals Colorado.

Colorado Heroes | Asian Avenue Magazine


Alyssa Nilemo grew up navigating being hapa with her older brother Chris.

Executive Director, Asian Chamber Foundation of Colorado Dharma School Superintendent, Denver Buddhist Temple Mirai Generations Leadership Program Graduate, Sakura Foundation As an unsure 20-something-year-old, Alyssa Nilemo says it was her community who saw her potential before she did. Now as a community leader, she’s constantly asking herself: “How do I make sure I give this back? How do I make sure this means something for others?” A fourth-generation Japanese American whose family came to Denver after World War II, Nilemo also identifies as hapa, or mixed race. She grew up in Littleton and attended the Dharma School, where her grandfather was a community leader in the tight-knit Japanese American community. Nilemo has poured her energy into giving back to organizations that supported her personal and professional growth. She volunteers as superintendent for the Dharma School at the Tri-State Denver Buddhist Temple, serves on the board of the Asian Chamber of Commerce and is executive director of the chamber’s foundation, which provides educational and career development opportunities for underserved segments of the AAPI community. She’s also the campaign manager for Neal Walia, a Democrat running for Colorado’s 1st Congressional District. “She’s an example of the young lead-


May 2022 | Cover Story



ers that will bring the next generation into the future,” said Gary Yamashita, CEO of Sakura Square and executive director of the Sakura Foundation. But Nilemo often felt torn between her different ancestral roots. She felt too white-passing to claim her Asianness and too Japanese to be white, and struggled for years with feelings of shame and isolation. After spending a few years on the West Coast, she returned to Denver to reconnect with her community. It was an experience with the Sakura Foundation’s Mirai Generations Leadership Program, where Nilemo met other young Japanese American and mixed-race leaders, that helped her reconcile those feelings. “I started to realize how diverse this community was, and in my own way, I was acting like ‘Asian’ was this monolith... I had been telling myself I didn’t belong,” she said. Now, whether it’s through her work in public policy and politics, or in the Japanese American community, Nilemo says that experience fuels her commitment to equity and service. “I just want everyone to have a space in the system, just the way they are,” she said.

Nilemo participates in Denver’s womxn’s march in 2021. Advocacy for womxn’s rights will always be an intersectional conversation for her.

At the AAPI Solidarity Against Racism event on March 20, 2022, Nilemo spoke about the power in sharing stories.

Nilemo attributes her successes and accomplishments to the support and sacrifice of her husband, Korey.

Mimi Luong Ye with her husband Michael and sons Landon and Noah


Co-owner, Truong An Gifts Founder, Sweetest Day CO

Luong is known for organizing large-scale Asian events in Denver, especially the lunar new year and mid-autumn festivals.

When Mimi Luong’s family first built Denver’s Far East Center, a shopping plaza on Federal Boulevard, they envisioned a place where Asian Americans from across Colorado could find food and comforts to remind them of home. Now Luong, who has taken over management of the shopping plaza and ownership of Truong An Gifts, her mom’s gift shop, wants to expand and preserve the area’s AAPI businesses for younger generations and a broader community. The entrepreneur and mother of two has been the force behind community events and efforts to support Asian American-owned businesses along Denver’s “Little Saigon” corridor throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Dismayed by how the pandemic had affected Asian American businesses, last year Luong created a Facebook page to promote Little Saigon businesses and worked with state and local officials to bring vaccination events to Far East Plaza. Community members can also pick up COVID testing kits at her family’s shop. “Our area has a lot of people who do not speak English. They don’t have computer access, they don’t know how to sign up” for vaccinations, Luong said. “My goal was to get the community vaccinated — the business owners, the employees — and let everyone know, this area is a safe place to shop, to dine, to hang out.” The entrepreneur and mother of two also has bigger plans this year. In addition to the annual Lunar New Year festival that Luong hosts at the Far East Center, she’s working with other local organizations to put on night markets where Asian American restaurants and businesses will be represented. She’s also lobbying Denver officials to create an official “Little Saigon” in Denver, with the hopes of drawing more visitors. Luong grew up at the Far East Center — It’s her home. Now she wants to make sure people don’t lose that connection to Asian culture and miss out on what it has to offer. “If our gift shop isn’t here, I don’t think there’s other places that have as much variety as we do, the Asian culture will slowly fade away,” Luong said. “I feel like people need to know, there’s a lot of great restaurants and supermarkets.”

Luong grew up at The Far East Center helping her family with the Asian gift store, Truong An Gifts.

In addition to her work serving the Asian community, Luong also owns an event planning business called Sweetest Day CO.

Colorado Heroes | Asian Avenue Magazine


GARY YAMASHITA Chief Executive Officer, Sakura Square LLC Executive Director, Sakura Foundation Community Grantmaking Committee, Rose Community Foundation

Yamashita (right) attends a gala with the Mirai Generations Leadership Program class and Ryan Harris, Denver Bronco Super Bowl Champion.

Yamashita visits Hawaii, with his children Brett, Lauren and Amy, and his wife Deb.


May 2022 | Cover Story

Yamashita speaks to the crowd at the 2016 Denver Cherry Blossom Festival. This year, the festival will be held on June 25-26, 2022 at Sakura Square.

Fly fishing is Yamashita’s passion.

Sakura Square was a refuge for the Japanese Americans that came to Denver’s Lower Downtown when they weren’t welcome elsewhere. And Gary Yamashita sees it as his mission to protect that safe space for future generations. “I just turned 69 last month, and... most people would be considering retiring. But we have so much more work to do,” said Yamashita, who as CEO of Sakura Square is now overseeing its redevelopment. Yamashita serves on the board of several community organizations, including the Denver Downtown Partnership and Mile High Japanese American Citizens League. As executive director of the nonprofit Sakura Foundation, Yamashita also oversees programs for the next generation of Japanese American (JA) leaders. The foundation has scholarship and leadership programs and also runs Chibi No Gakko which is a JA Heritage School that provides K-8th grade students the opportunity to explore JA culture and history in a fun “hands on” way. Sakura Foundation also co-hosts the annual Cherry Blossom Festival with the Tri-State Denver Buddhist Temple in June each year. The longtime community leader, who has a background in real estate and banking, feels it was his calling to protect a space that generations of Japanese Americans have called home. Yamashita’s father, a U.S. citizen born in California, was one of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans who were imprisoned during World War II. When the war ended, his family was among the Japanese Americans who came to Colorado after then-Gov. Ralph Carr publicly welcomed them to the state. But discrimination forced Japanese Americans to the Lower Downtown, where Yamashita’s family settled and opened a cafe across from what is now Sakura Square. The redevelopment of Sakura Square will include a new residential tower, retail space, and brand new Temple/community center building, said Yamashita, noting that the temple was a gathering space for Japanese Americans who had nowhere else to go after the war. But he also envisions the center as a place where anyone, Japanese American or not, can learn about Japanese culture. That’s increasingly important for a community that has suffered exclusion and is increasingly mixed race, he said. “It must be a place that is open to everyone, not just an exclusive place for just a select few,” Yamashita said.

Joanne Liu, her husband Roger, and her kids Melody (9) and Ryden (5)

JOANNE LIU Co-Founder & CEO, Asian Girls Ignite Chair, Colorado Asian Pacific United Commissioner, Denver Asian American Pacific Islander Commission

Team AGI and students have fun at a community gathering during their inaugural summer program in July 2021.

AGI and Moonshot edVentures staff pose for a photo. AGI was designed and launched through a fellowship offered by Moonshot edVentures.

High school Joanne Liu was excited when a white friend told her, “Sometimes I forget that you’re Asian.” It meant that her peers didn’t notice her differences, said Liu, who often felt invisible growing up as a Chinese American girl in a mostly white, middle class neighborhood outside of Boston. So while exploring a career change in 2019, Liu decided to create a space that she and other AAPI girls and women never had. Asian Girls Ignite (AGI) is a nonprofit dedicated to giving AAPI girls and LGBTQ+ people in Colorado a space to explore their voices and identity. More than 50 students, including mixed race individuals and adoptees, have been served since it launched in 2020. AGI was designed and launched through a fellowship offered by Moonshot edVentures, which is an organization that recruits leaders to develop new learning environments such as a school or program for students of color. Just being with others who look like them is transformative for many girls, who are often the only or one of few Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders in their school or community. “They’ll say, ‘this is the first time I’ve ever been in a

AGI students celebrated at a virtual Lunar New Year social where they received surprise gift boxes they opened together in February 2022.

room of other Asian girls,’” said Liu, a longtime educator and school administrator in Colorado. She also serves on the Denver Asian American Pacific Islander Commission and as board chair for Colorado Asian Pacific United. Students help create their own programs, and the group invites AAPI women to share their stories, including their careers, family background and experiences with discrimination. The nonprofit recently received a $200,000, two-year grant that will allow Liu to work fulltime and expand AGI’s programs. For Liu, it wasn’t until college that she had the chance to explore her identity, when she met Asian friends and joined Asian student clubs. After college, she participated in Gund Gwok — Cantonese for “heroine” — an Asian women lion and dragon dancing troupe. “It was the first time I found myself in a community of all Asian women who really believed in their innate power,” said Liu. Now she’s creating a space where AAPI girls can find that power for themselves. “You may not look like anybody in your community, but know that your differences are your superpower,” Liu said. Colorado Heroes | Asian Avenue Magazine


Yim, managing attorney at Primera Law Group, presents a client’s case in the courtroom.

DEBORAH YIM Owner & Managing Attorney, Primera Law Group President-Elect, Asian Pacific American Bar Association Commissioner, Denver Immigrant and Refugee Commission Legal Counsel, Asian Real Estate Association of Greater Denver

Deborah Yim with her husband Tony, daughter Alex, and son Justin


May 2022 | Cover Story

Many individuals who have come to Deborah Yim for legal assistance say they considered giving up fighting against discrimination and workplace abuses. It was just too hard to battle against an employment and legal system where the odds are stacked against them. That’s why Yim has dedicated her legal career and pro bono service to being an advocate for immigrants, refugees and other marginalized individuals whose civil rights have been violated and who have been wronged in the workplace. “The reality is that it is a true David versus Goliath situation for most of my clients, and it takes a lot of courage for them to stand up against entities that can outspend and outlast them a million to one. Yet, they still want their stories to be told so that the injustices they have suffered do not happen to anyone else,” said Yim, who left a job with the federal government to start her own private practice in 2020 in order to do more work serving the AAPI community. Yim relocated to Denver from California in 2017. She’s since become a “driving force” behind a number of community service projects, said Harry Budisidharta, executive director of the Asian Pacific Development Center. Among her efforts, Yim spearheaded a

Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Colorado volunteers assemble holiday gift bags for AAPI seniors.

free legal hotline for the AAPI community and formed a free legal clinic helping low-income AAPI elders draft end-of-life documents (such as medical powers of attorney). She organized donation drives to help refugee families celebrate Lunar New Year and to help low income AAPI seniors celebrate Christmas. She also serves on the board of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Denver Immigrant and Refugee Commission and as legal counsel for the Asian Real Estate Association of Greater Denver. Yim, a Chinese American immigrant who immigrated to Los Angeles from Singapore when she was seven, cites experiences with discrimination that have engrained a personal commitment to equal justice and advocacy on behalf of marginalized communities. She’s currently working with the Nathan Yip Foundation to develop an anti-bullying program, after seeing her 10-year-old daughter encounter racism at school and finding few resources geared toward elementary school students. She wants to make sure the next generation of AAPI leaders have the tools to combat discrimination and inequity. “Our community has a powerful and resilient voice. We need to encourage our next generation to not be afraid to use their voices to speak up against injustice,” Yim said.

DR. WILLIAM WEI State Historian, History Colorado Boardmember, Colorado Asian Pacific United History Professor, University of Colorado

Some historians see local history as too small, even provincial. But especially for Asian Americans and other people of color, those histories show exactly what happens when stories go untold. “You can see the light bulbs go off when people realize, ‘I have a significant history in this country,’” said Dr. William Wei. “They can’t ignore racism that’s been directed against Asian Americans – it’s not a one-off experience.” Wei moved to Colorado in August 1980 from Ann Arbor, Mich. He is a professor of Modern Chinese history at the University of Colorado at Boulder and served as the 2019-2020 Colorado State Historian. His work has focused in part on Asian American Pacific Islanders and their contributions

to Colorado and across the American West, including a 2016 book, Asians in Colorado: A History of Persecution and Perseverance in the Centennial State. Wei looks at recent anti-Asian attacks in the context of centuries of discrimination against Asian American Pacific Islanders and other people of color in the United States. And he believes telling full and accurate stories is crucial to dismantling the racism that allows history to repeat itself. Wei’s work has also highlighted the history of Denver’s historic Chinatown and an 1880 racist riot that nearly destroyed it. He and other advocates with Colorado Asian Pacific United successfully lobbied Denver Mayor Michael Hancock last month to issue an apology for the riot, a mob of more than 3,000 white people that lynched a man

and destroyed Chinese businesses. He hopes it’s just the beginning of efforts to retell Chinatown’s story, and that of other Asian Americans in Colorado, through murals and other historical markers. “By reclaiming the past, that helps to understand the present and pave the way for the future,” Wei said. As a professor and Chinese American, he’s also seen how learning Asian American history has affected younger Asian Americans who may feel caught between a mainstream narrative that excludes them and a foreign history they don’t relate to. “Young people are often torn by the identity question, when that’s a false dichotomy. Because we actually have an Asian American history that explains who they are,” Wei said.

William Wei and his family hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. From left: Leslie A. Wei, M.D., William Wei, Ph.D., Susan C. Wei, Ph.D.

Published in 2016, Wei authored Asians in Colorado that sheds light on antiChinese riots in the 1880s and the more recent influx of Southeast Asian refugees.

Wei recently shared the history of Asian Americans in Colorado on April 16, 2022 during the City of Denver’s Chinatown apology event at CU-Denver

Colorado Heroes | Asian Avenue Magazine


Lifetime Achievement Award:

DR. SUMIKO TANAKA HENNESSY Founding boardmember and former Executive Director, Asian Pacific Development Center Co-founder, Asian Chamber of Commerce Co-founder, Crossroads for Social Work Former boardmember, Women’s Foundation of Colorado

Sumiko was a social worker and trauma therapist.


May 2022 | Cover Story

Sumiko volunteered as a ski instructor in Winter Park’s National Sports Center for the Disabled for 15 years.

When Dr. Sumiko Tanaka Hennessy took over management of the Asian Pacific Development Center (APDC) in 1984, the fledgling nonprofit was struggling to stay afloat. So, Sumiko staked out a breakfast spot where she knew a state lawmaker could be found on early mornings. Her persistence paid off. She convinced the lawmaker to help APDC get a special funding designation. And with that door open, along with some aggressive grant writing, Sumiko was able to resuscitate and grow the organization from a staff of seven to more than 70 employees. “She was a fierce advocate for making sure we were never forgotten and that we were always at the table,” said Dr. DJ Ida, a former colleague and leader in AAPI community health. Sumiko is a retired licensed clinical social worker with over 50 years of experience in mental health, developmental disabilities and social work. She was born in Yokohama, Japan and came to the United States in 1961, where she earned her Master’s from Fordham and a PhD from the University of Denver. As executive director of APDC, Sumiko not only stabilized the organization’s finances but advocated for health

Sumiko (second from right) enjoys lunch with a team of therapists from Japan in Grand Lake, Colorado in August 2016.

equity for Colorado’s AAPI communities. Concerned about cultural stigma against mental health care, she created programs centered on recreational activities and helping people learn new job skills. Sumiko understood that clients, immigrants and refugees who had endured significant trauma and were adjusting to life in Colorado needed the agency to teach and guide them rather than to have things done for them. For younger clients, classes in ESL, arts and crafts and job skills training were important. Sumiko was also an influential civic leader. She was honored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 1998 for her work in health care, inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989 and received other awards including from the Colorado Chapter of National Association of Social Workers and other awards for her leadership on behalf of women and Asian American Pacific Islanders. After retiring from APDC in 2000, Sumiko went on to help establish the Tokyo University of School of Social Welfare. She studied and shared new approaches to treating developmental trauma. Not only was she teaching social work, in addition, Sumiko helped to develop a program to teach the disabled to ski.

Richard and Sumiko Hennessy visit Easter Island, Chile in January 2013.

Sumiko and Richard Hennessy go to Kodiak Island, Alaska in July 2019.

Richard and Sumiko Hennessy take a photo together at the Denver Buddhist Temple in April 2022.

APDC staff (from left): Eri Asano, Marilyn Ung, Ivy Hontz, Sumiko Hennessy, Carey Tanaka

From left: Richard Hennessy, Sumiko Hennessy, Marilyn Ung, Angela Cho, Onechanh Inthamanivong, Huyen Nguyen

Colorado Heroes | Asian Avenue Magazine





TH OA NGUYEN Owner and Chef of Bánh & Butter 9935 E Colfax Ave, \ Aurora, CO 80010 Tel: (720) 513-9313 @banhbutterbakerycafe

Bánh & Butter recently opened on East Colfax featuring specialty coffee drinks, unforgettable pastries, and delectable sweets. What is your cooking background?

‘Pastry chef by day and culinary chef by night’ best describes me. Professionally, I am a pastry chef, but I am also a culinary chef, which shines within my family. Much of my cooking techniques came from my mom. Growing up, I also watched food shows and was inspired by various types of cuisine from different cultures. A lot of research on techniques, flavors, ingredients, and spices all contribute to my culinary style and recipe development. Garlic shrimp linguini was the first Italian dish I made that opened the doors to other food cultures.

How did you decide on the name Bánh & Butter?

The name is a play on the idiom “Bread & Butter.” Croissants were a huge inspiration to to the name. I knew ‘butter’ needed to be incorporated, but wanted to integrate my Vietnamese culture into the name. “Bánh” is a Vietnamese term that refers to a wide variety of breads, sweet and savory pastries. With Asian fusion inspired flavors in our classical French/American pas-

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May2022 2022||Cover Food Story May

tries, the name Bánh & Butter couldn’t be more perfect for our business model. And truly this bakery cafe is the bread and butter for us. For those that assume we are only a Vietnamese sandwich shop, it gives us the opportunity to enlighten our customers that “bánh” is more than just bánh mi. It’s bánh croissant, bánh choux creme (cream puffs), bánh ngọt (sweet pastries), bánh mặn (savory pastries), and more.

What is your favorite pastry?

My favorite pastry to eat are cream puffs. It’s a family favorite. My favorite pastry to make are all laminated dough products such as croissants, puff pastries, danishes, etc.

Who is on your Bánh & Butter team?

Our team consists of my youngest sister, Kha who manages the front. and my friend who formerly worked at Whole Foods Market, Rachel, as back of the house manager. My other team members previously worked at Third Culture (the bakery that had closed in the same location)

and have taken on baker roles and are doing an amazing job! The rest of my team are made up of interns from Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Prior to Bánh & Butter, I was a pastry chef instructor at Auguste Escoffier and the interns were previously my students.

What are your plans for the future?

I hope to bring in more savory selections to our pastries and expand a bit on the bánh mi options. Although we are not a gluten-free bakery due to the amount of flour we use, I would like to incorporate gluten-friendly products. The support from the community has been so heart warming. This business is so community driven. We have surrounding businesses such as, Baba & Pop’s Pierogi, Lady Justice Brewery, The People’s Building, Ab Barber Shop, Cerebral Brewing, Miette, Fox Theater, Downtown Aurora Visual Arts Center and so many more business in the area that have supported us since day 1. There’s a very strong community support system here on East Colfax. It is inspiring and I am forever thankful.

The Pagoda Lab builds an ecosystem of entrepreneurs From left: Christian Ortiz, Minty Chinsomboon, and Tai Hunt are the visionaries behind The Pagoda Lab. By Mary Jeneverre Schultz Most entrepreneurs start their business with a hobby, such as making jewelry, designing purses, or creating DIY crafts. Starting small is the way to go. As a one-person team though, it can be overwhelming to juggle all the aspects of a microenterprise—product creation, accounting, advertising, and so much more. Enter The Pagoda Lab. The company offers community resources to support the solo entrepreneur. Pagoda Lab is as an incubator for small businesses in the Denver community of microentrepreneurs. Minty Chinsomboon, CEO and co-founder of Pagoda Lab, said: “Pagoda Lab serves as a connector for small businesses and aims to create an ecosystem of local artisans.” One of Pagoda Lab’s clients, Kimberly Bannick, owner of Toute Douceur Candy, creates sweet candy and chocolates from scratch. Inspired by her family’s chocolate factory in Minnesota, built from the ground up by her great great grandfather, she taught herself how to make candy. “It’s in my blood,” said Bannick. Reading the Harry Potter books is what first inspired her to make candy. She now creates custom made sweets specifically for a variety of local restaurants and eateries in Denver. For example, she makes truffles for Sweet Cooie’s (which is a part of Little Man Ice Cream), and creates gin truffles exclusively for Deviation Distilling in the Dairy Block. Her Thai peanut butter cup won the gold award for best flavor combination from the International Chocolate Salon in their spicy chocolate competition! “Working with Pagoda Lab is invaluable,” Bannick said. “It’s like working with the strength of an Etsy website (global online marketplace).”

Working in a commercial kitchen, Bannick believes in quality over quantity or “flavor over flash.” To check out her candy, visit The incubator isn’t the only project on Minty’s plate. In addition to juggling her family and kids, she is creating subscription boxes in partnership with Locally Hyped filled with Colorado local products for adventurous eaters. The boxes could contain chili sauce, chips, popcorn, BBQ sauces, sweet delights of candy and cookies, even candles and artwork. Minty comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Her parents owned one of Denver’s first grocery stores, located on Federal Boulevard, during the 1980s. In fact, Minty has taken over a building, owned by her family, to house Pagoda Lab. She said the building stands as a pagoda shaped structure, which inspired the business name: The Pagoda Lab. In addition to Minty, her business partners include Tai Hunt, who is also the president of Asian Corporate & Entrepreneur Leaders Denver, and Christian Ortiz, a creative director and filmmaker. The combination of the three owners brings tremendous skills in building a business, producing social media feeds and marketing the business through local fairs, community festivals and cultural night markets. Pagoda Lab is co-hosting “Culture Collab” in celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month with local vendors selling food and drinks and providing cultural information on Sunday, May 15, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at The Pagoda Lab, 1000 S Grove St, Denver, CO 80219. Visit their website at or connect with them on Instagram @pagodalab for more information on upcoming events and subscription boxes.

Owner of Toute Douceur Candy, Kimberly Bannick, partners with The Pagoda Lab to build the local small business network.

Inside Story | Asian Avenue Magazine


SWAB YOUR CHEEK, SAVE A LIFE Caryn, a 32 year old first generation Taiwanese American, was diagnosed with ALL - Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia this February. This is an incredibly aggressive disease. Without a stem cell donor match, she only has a 10% chance to live. Caryn is in the middle of her MFT program at USC with the dream of becoming a therapist to serve underprivileged children. She grew up in New York, received education in Taipei, Boston, and as of this year, lives in LA and is married to her devoting partner Tony. She is a caring, big-hearted, generous woman who has made tremendous impact within her communities and continuously does so. It’s an incredibly painful process to go through so many chemotherapy treatments within such a short period of time. Our family has had many sleepless nights, going from shock to despair, hope to inspired resilience, wishing for a miracle. Through this experience, we are really beginning to understand the preciousness of human life. And what it really means to come together as a family, as a community, as a movement. We are doing everything in our power to keep fighting for Caryn. From creating the instagram account @swabforcaryn to raise awareness to partnering with BeTheMatch to organize donor drives throughout New York, Taipei, LA, Oakland, and most recently in Denver at last month’s Cultural Roots Night Market event. Another donor drive will be held at the AAPI Wellness Day on May 7th at the History of Colorado. Together, with everyone’s support, we’ve registered over 6,554 people to the national stem cell/bone marrow registry! One of the main reasons why Caryn and her family have vowed to campaign so rigorously is to raise awareness for the urgent need for more AAPI representation in the registry. As of 2020, there are over nine million potential donors in the BeTheMatch Registry. Unfortunately, only 11% are Asians in this pool. Because ethnicity matters when finding the perfect match for a stem cell transplant, we are calling in Asians to support our cause. This has become a national call to action to not only attempt to save Caryn’s life, but also give vulnerable Asian American folks hope in the future, a fighting chance, if they too are in dire need of healthy stem cells to save their lives. We have been filled with gratitude seeing celebrities on social media like Jeremy Lin, Ming-Na Wen, Ronny Chieng share about Caryn’s case and encourage AAPI folks to show up. We know we cannot do this alone. It takes a nation-wide movement to rise together, for us to choose humanity, dignity, unity and to increase our collective chance and our inherent right to live a long life. Will you help us? For more information, you may contact or call me at 732-610-4887.


YOU HAVE THE POWER THAT COULD SAVE HER LIFE Caryn has a rare & aggressive form of leukemia (ALL). She needs a stem cell donor match ASAP. The right match could increase her survival rate from 10% to 70%.






Sign-up for a free swab kit Ages: 18–40


We are calling in 18-40 yr old Asian Americans, who are in good health to register by answering some basic health question. You will then be sent a swab test kit free of charge. It only takes a few minutes to swab in the inner cheek and mail back to the registry. If you have a match, you will be notified. There is no obligation to commit if you are matched. You may request to remove yourself from the registry at any time; please remember though, your selfless donation can potentially save a life. To help, register at:

Thank you, Tiffany Lin, Cousin of Caryn Hsu


May 2022 | Feature

Volunteers with BeTheMatch register potential stem cell donors at History Colorado on April 16, 2022.

Hawaiian leis celebrate high school and college graduations this time of year A symbol of affection, honor, and respect, leis are often given when “coming and going,” which is why they are often seen at graduations as students leave school for their next chapter in life. By Mary Jeneverre Schultz Hawaiian leis are commonly given to those who are saying farewell. When a lei is given during graduation time, it symbolizes a way to say goodbye to the student’s old life and ushering in their next chapter. While in Hawaii, leis are easily accessible at local shops, they can be harder to find in Colorado. Locally, Kealohi Minami and Ellen Akiano are two lei creators, who love to share and advocate for their Hawaiian culture. “It’s a great opportunity to educate and provide access to the Hawaiian culture,” shared Minami, owner of Lei by Kealohi in Lakewood, Colo. Lei by Kealohi is a small Native Hawaiian owned lei making business founded by 22-year-old Minami, who has been making leis since she was seven years old. “My dad taught me how to make lei that was passed down from our kumu hula (hula teacher). This process requires protocol and mana a deep spiritual power which is often ignored when made or sold without cultural knowledge.” While she pursues her passion in building food equity and advocating for environmental justice, she is also establishing a home-based business creating leis for graduations, weddings, birthdays, and even baby showers. She tackles creativity with flowers that are locally produced in Colorado. Connect with her on Instagram Ellen Akiona @MissMaunaPua.

Kealohi Minami

On the other side of town, in Aurora, Ellen Akiona, 52, also offers her lei-making services. As a one-person venture, Akiona receives all of her customers through word-of-mouth with peak season starting in May and ending around September. Akiona said, “I enjoy making lei because itʻs my outlet. I love to be around the fresh flowers, colors, and fragrances. When I see people wearing my lei, I feel a sense of pride and fulfillment knowing that it made them happy.” “I truly believe that a lei should be made and given with love and the spirit of aloha. I attribute my lei-making skills to my mother & Kuana Torres Kahele.” Akiona is also a part of Hālau Kalama, a Polynesian cultural organization in Aurora, founded in 2007. The nonprofit is dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Native Pacific Islands’ culture and heritage through music, dance, language, and education. There will be an opportunity to learn how to make leis on June 25, 2022 for Hālau Kalama’s 14th annual Lei Day at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Castle Rock, Colo. Joining Hālau Kalama will be Kuana Torres Kahele, Hawaiiʻs own musician, songwriter, vocalist, dancer, and master lei-maker! Kuana will be teaching a lei-making workshop as well as appearing in concert that same day. Get tickets for the show or workshop at Contact Ellen Akiona via e-mail at ellenakiona@hotmail. com or call/text 303-520-6393.

Hālau Kalama proudly presents their 14th Annual Lei Day on June 25, 2022


Denver Asian Collective packs the theater at Alamo Drafthouse for Everything Everywhere All at Once

Photos by Justin Oshita Denver Asian Collective (DAC) hosted a screening of the acclaimed film Everything Everywhere All At Once on April 25 at Alamo Drafthouse in Denver. With 77 seats filled, this was the organization’s largest event since it was founded in 2019. The sci-fi film, starring Michelle Yeoh, took audience members on a mind-bending journey with hilarious moments, and left them feeling represented on the screen and connected in the room, as they enjoyed the film in a packed theater of Asian Americans and friends. Yeong Cheng, founder of DAC said, “Four years ago I watched Crazy Rich Asians in a ‘standard’ Denver theater setting and felt simultaneously seen and invisible.” “It felt amazing to create a different, Asian-empowered experience personally, and it felt wonderful to hear from other Asians regarding how being in an Asian dominant space addressed unmet needs, needs that for some were brought to the surface simply by being in the room. That feedback validates the need for these spaces, spaces where Asians can lift up our masks and show each other our full selves free from the interrogation of Denver’s everpresent white gaze.” DAC is building a community for Asians in Denver to socialize, create representation, and influence the broader community by hosting events such as this screening and their upcoming book club. “There’s so much value in Asian spaces that we often take for granted when we have them. Denver spaces and events are often nonAsian, and it feels bad to constantly be the odd one out. It’s an experience I want to mitigate or alleviate for others,” said Josh Lew, DAC organizer. “It motivates me to organize more spaces like this one, where being ‘the token’ Asian is not the norm. It was so awesome to host such a great movie for such a great group of people!” Visit to learn about DAC’s upcoming events and the Asian community event calendar.


May 2022 | On Scene

Wat Buddhawaram celebrates Songkran Festival, Thai New Year

By Chaiyo and Pok Sergent On a clear, beautiful, sunny Sunday, hundreds of people from the community congregated at the Wat Buddhawararam near I-70 and Federal Blvd. to celebrate the annual Songkran Festival, the traditional Thai New Year. The atmosphere was joyful, colorful, and festive on April 17, 2022. Founded in 1976, Wat Buddhawaram is not only a Theravada Buddhist Thai temple, but a place to celebrate and promote Thai cultural heritage as well. In the early hours of the morning, many volunteers bustled about at the temple,which oftentimes serves as a community center for the Thai and Laotian communities. After leading the morning prayers inside the temple, the procession of monks then walked the grounds of the temple to receive alms from members of the public who crowded in to offer rice, new robes, foods, etc. and to receive blessings for the new year. Families, couples, and friend groups packed the temple grounds and the adjacent meditation retreat house (a recent addition to Wat Buddhawararam). Kids played in the area between the temple and the house. Here, Chaiyo,

Bodhi, Jennie, and Jayda posed in front of the balloon shooting game, where there were several other children’s games. A myriad of vendors came to sell their wares, home cooked recipes, and much more. The weather was wonderful and it beckoned such a huge crowd to come and celebrate the traditional New Year for both Thai and Mon people. Food, drinks, and desserts were served and donations accepted. The attendees enjoyed delicious, mouth-watering dishes such as pork skewers, sticky rice, wonton noodle soup, and tom yum, among many others. Traditional Thai dances were performed to bless the new temple building and musical performances filled the stage outside, calling on the festival attendees to join in on the fun and dancing. In the afternoon, the celebration also featured a kid’s pageant (under 10 years old). The event wrapped up with adults and children splashing each other with water, followed by a sprinkling of baby powder to symbolize spiritual cleansing and ushering in of the new year.




ActivateWork champions a diverse workforce through the IT and healthcare industries Last April 6, Governor Jared Polis applauded the work of ActivateWork in building and creating an ecosystem of talented workers. ActivateWork provides world-class technology training and credentials through its partner, Per Scholas, who has placed more than 15,000 IT professionals in 500-plus companies in 20 cities. “Colorado is facing challenges in hiring,” Polis said. “We need the right applicants for the right skills, for the right jobs.” ActivateWork’s mission is to help underserved individuals achieve their fullest potential through the dignity of work. Founded in 2016, the organization is dedicated to transforming ambition into lasting success by launching individuals into flourishing careers in IT and healthcare. About 89 percent of ActivateWork’s learners are low-income, and more than 20 percent live in extreme poverty when they enter this program,” said Helen Young Hayes, founder and CEO of ActivateWork. “Many come from lower-wage jobs in retail, hospitality, construction, or warehousing, while 10 percent are veterans and 70 percent are people of color, accounting for 30 percent women.” Hayes, who is Chinese American, shared during her speech that talent can be found in underrepresented communities, but opportunities are not available, so ActivateWork provides that bridge to connections. As a champion of workforce development, Polis served as the keynote speaker for “Elevating Colorado’s Economy by Launching Tech Careers.” He discussed the state’s immediate needs for economic mobility. Last June, Governor Polis signed two bills that invested $75 million to uplift Colorado’s workforce training programs and expand access to all interested in pursuing apprenticeship pathways. “This work is a step up to the visions on how everyone can thrive,” Polis said. In addition to graduates, employer-partners like PING Identity and Bank of America are growing a strategic and diverse technology talent pool through registered cybersecurity apprenticeships. As ActivateWork builds additional training for IT courses, the goal is to pave the way to economic mobility and prosperity for low-wage earners from underrepresented and underserved communities. For more information about ActivateWork, visit


May 2022 | On Scene

Photos and article by Annie Guo VanDan

Governor Jared Polis addresses the importance of workforce development.

Helen Hayes, founder and CEO of ActivateWork, welcomes the audience.

A panel, moderated by Jesse Ogas of 9News speak to the importance of a diverse workforce.

Congratulations to Japanese Arts Network (JA-NE) for the launch of the “Colorado’s API Food Culture: Rice and Resilience” exhibit, highlighting the importance and legacy of food in Asian culture. “We are very fortunate to share thoughtful work rooted in lived experience from inspiring Colorado API creatives,” said Courtney Ozaki, founder of JA-NE. See the original work of local artists and the stories of Asian Americans on the 3rd floor mezzanine at History Colorado, 1200 N Broadway, Denver, CO 80203.

Happy Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month! Join us on Saturday, June 4, 2022 for the Building Community Resilience: AAPI Mental Wellness Summit for a day of workshops and physical activities! Participate in voter registration efforts this summer to encourage the AAPI community to not only register, but to vote in the November 2022 election! CACENDENVER.ORG

On Scene | Asian Avenue Magazine


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