East-West Fest: Celebrating Cultures

East-West Fest is an annual celebration of the many culturally diverse communities that make up the East-West Center ‘ohana and the Honolulu community.

The Fest is a student-led event supported by the East-West Center Education Program, other Center staff, and the Friends of the East-West Center.

This family friendly community event is free and open to the public.

At the Fest, cultural booths and live performances spread across the vast sheltered lanais of the Center’s international conference center at Jefferson Hall with special events happening at the East-West Center Gallery and the Japanese Tea House.

Live performances by student and community groups are a highlight of the Fest! While the yearly line-up varies, past performances have included taiko drumming, Pacific dance traditions, Indonesian music, break dancing, classical Indian dance, Brazilian ensembles, Filipino music, Okinawan lion dancers, American folk and blues music, an international fashion show and more.

Cultural booths staffed by students and community members represent a diverse variety of cultural and national groups from across Asia, the Pacific, the United States and beyond. The engaging hosts of each booth present cultural artifacts, games, traditional dress, activities, music, and more!

The East-West Center Gallery will be open to the public with its current exhibition on view and interactive art-making activities available.

Food trucks are on hand to keep festival goers energized and satisfied.



Burmese History, Cultural, and Mental Health Support

For several decades dating back to the 1940s to present-day Burma has been suffering numerous conflicts such as wars and coups within the country causing uprising tension and problems for the people young and old fearing for safety, not being able to live flourishing lives whether it’s obtaining everyday resources, bringing in a good amount of income and opportunities and also children lacking education as it comes in the lowest forms of qualities. Due to these issues naturally, people seek safer lives for themselves and their families. These people have no choice but to flee with nothing on them to neighboring countries such as Thailand, China, and India. Some can go to third countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, etc., When these people arrive here, they are faced with many new problems that are quite different from their homeland. They are faced with a language barrier; it is a huge adjustment as they leave everything they know behind.

Burmese refugees and immigrants must take the blocks and rebuild a new life here and learn all about the U.S. system and laws thus we feel the need to help all these people learn to adjust well and maneuver around the trauma. The Burmese Community Services was established in 2013, Buffalo NY as a nonprofit organization and a Certificate of Incorporation with the Department of State to exactly assist this growing community providing resources and services such as interpretation, assisting with housing, health care projects, funeral services, education, transportation, food and consumers, labor and employment opportunities and much more.

What will participants learn?

  • A deeper dive into the benefits our organization has to offer
  • The history, traditions, and rich culture of Burma
  • Different ethnic groups and languages spoken
  • A deeper understanding of specific social issues and problems regarding Burmese refugees and immigrants

Who is this workshop for?

  • This is for all service providers and researchers including government agencies.

Looking to receive continuing education contact hours?
Papa Ola Lōkahi (NASWHI-CEP-13) has been designated an approved provider of social work continuing education contact hours by the National Association of Social Workers Hawai’i Chapter. The Papa Ola Lokahi maintains responsibility for the program. This program is approved by the State of Hawaii Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division (Approval# ADAD-24-085) for up to 1.5 contact hour(s). NOTE: Participants are responsible for submitting proof of attendance to their respective certification or licensing board. ʻOhana CoE & Papa Ola Lōkahi do not submit this information on behalf of training participants.

Participants will receive a link to verify attendance at the end of the workshop.

Download slides here

Download the Burmese Community Behavioral Health Survey

This event has passed. You can watch the replay on our YouTube, or here on the website.

Workshop Presenters

Mr. Steven Sanyu was born in Burma/Myanmar and now resides in Buffalo since 2000 Mr. Steven founded the Burmese Community Services, Inc., (BCS) in 2013, and it became 501(C)(3) the first Burmese people to lead an Independent non-profit organization in WNY to assist refugees and immigrants with issues they are facing including but not limited to language barriers, cultural adjustment and to provide other services and resources.

As a community leader, Mr. Steven have been involved with many organizations and Institutions in the Buffalo Region such as Colleges and Universities, the Buffalo Police Department’s Language Access Plan, the WNY Refugee Health Summit Planning Committee, Community Advisor for the University at Buffalo Food Systems Planning and Health Communities Research Lab (UB Food Lab), the Buffalo Region Refugee and Immigrant Roundtable’s Steering Committee and the Advisory Board Member of the City of Buffalo Common Council’s Police Oversight Committee, etc.

Mr. Steven share experiences and give Cultural Competency training and give presentations to the Court, Colleges and University, Law Enforcement Training Academy, Schools, and Health Care Agencies including the IRS and more for better services, and understanding of refugees, and the immigrant population including interviews and radio shows. Mr. Steven also assist the Buffalo Police Department to develop the “Language ID Card” for non-English speakers in the city of Buffalo and lastly working together with County Legislators and partner organizations to pass the Language Access Law in Erie County.

Mr. Steven currently serving as a President of Burmese Community Services, a Member of the WNY COVID-19 Vaccine HUB Advisory Committee and Ambassador to the New York State Vaccine Equal Task Force, Member of the Erie County’s New Americans Advisory Committee, the Buffalo State University President’s Community Advisory Committee, and the Buffalo State’s AFP Advisory & Engagement Committee.

For those reasons, the Burmese Community Services (BCS) received the Community Leader Organization Award from the NFJC and also from the NYS Senator Timothy Kennedy and the Erie County Legislature in 2018, and recognition from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2020.

Mr. Steven also received awards and recognition for “Extensive Work and Leadership in the
Development of the Buffalo Police Department’s Language Access Plan” by the City of Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown in 2016, the “Standardized Patients in Inter-Professional Education” by the University at Buffalo, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in 2017, “First recipient of the International Community Day Award Winner” by the City of Buffalo Mayor and the BPD Commissioner in 2021 (BPD C-District), and the recently, the City & State media has recognized as a “One of the Asia American‘s most Influential 100 leaders in New York State” in 2022.

Mahina ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i

Graphic that reads: Mahina ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i

Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi or Hawaiian Language Month, celebrated annually in February, honors and promotes the rich cultural heritage of the Hawaiian language, also known as ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi.

The Hawaiian language was banned from public school systems three years after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. And actively discouraged speaking ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi at home, criminalizing the Native identity and leading to generations of stigmatization in Hawaiian ʻohana (families).

In the 1970s, a revitalization of Hawaiian culture reignited interest in language learning efforts and ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i was reintroduced into public school curriculums in 1978, after the language became officially recognized in the state of Hawai‘i, due to the tireless efforts of our kūpuna (elders) and the Hawaiian language immersion movement.

The annual observance throughout the month of February aims to raise awareness about the significance of preserving and revitalizing the indigenous language of Hawaii. Throughout the month, various events, educational programs, and community activities take place to showcase the beauty and importance of the Hawaiian language in fostering a deeper connection to the islands’ history and traditions.

The allocation of Hawaiian language month came after Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed Act 28 and was the first of its kind to be transliterated in both Hawaiian and English and states (source):

"Mahina ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i. E ‘ike mau a e kapa ‘ia ana ae ka mahina ‘o Pepeluali ‘o ia ka “Mahina ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i” i mea e ho‘omaika‘i a e paipai aku ai i ka ‘Ōlelo ‘ana o ua ‘ōlelo makuahine nei la.

Translation: ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Month.The month of February shall be known and designated as “Ōlelo Hawai‘i Month” to celebrate and encourage the use of Hawaiian language.

In observance of Mahina ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, we have selected ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i from E Ola Mau, a Native Hawaiian Health Needs assessment that can help behavioral health and cultural practitioners better understand some terminology surrounding mental health, Hawaiian culture, and substance use.

Did you know… The original version of E Ola Mau, published in the 1980’s contained a compendium of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi terms related to mental health and wellbeing. Many of these terms are layered with meaning beyond their surface translation. For example, the term “hei” is used for “addiction”. Hei refers to a string game played by our ancestors and even today. Literally translated, hei means – Net, snare, stratagem, ruse; to ensnare, entangle, catch in a net; to festoon with leis. Hoʻo.hei – To snare, tangle, rope, lasso; to beset with difficulties; to infatuate, be enraptured. Hoʻohei manaʻo, to infatuate, beguile; spellbound.

The meaning of ensnaring and entanglement is used to convey the deep turmoil of addiction, being ensnared in ones addiction.

Land; spiritual connection for Hawaiian.

Emotional stress.

Humble, meek, modest, unpretentious; this helps you to be sincere and helpful; it’s humble but not mealy mouthed; its accepting of others – not having to put them down or accepting their elevation of you; it’s to be warm and respectful; relationship.



Hoa kākoʻo
n. Ally, supporter.

To cause sorrow, grief, to oppress.

Kāwili lāʻau
To mix drugs.

Help assistant, helper, comforter, cooperation, support; kōkua is how you show you care about the person; kōkua is meaningful to the concept of ‘oia’i’o because this is how you give life to the aloha; it can be an exploitive thing; you can be asked to kōkua until it hurts so you need to be careful; kōkua is something you share, you give to another, to share what you have but not at the expense of your family; it is your resources or your own self, your extras, your strength and you give to others.

Kūkulu kumuhana
set to right, the pooling of strengths, emotional, psychological and spiritual, for a shared purpose.

Lāʻau hoʻohiamoe
n. Drug, narcotic, soporific, medicine to cause sleep, chloroform.

Ma‘i ma loko
Sickness from within caused by patients or family problems or misdeeds.

Intestines, center of intellect and emotions.

Olakino maikaʻi
Good health.

Pākela ʻai lāʻau
To overdose on drugs. Lit., take drugs to excess.

nvi. Place of refuge, sanctuary, asylum, place of peace and safety.

How Lunar New Year is Celebrated Among Asian Cultures

Lunar New Year is a diverse and beautiful holiday that is celebrated among many Asian cultures and families. In celebration of Lunar New Year, the team at the AANHPI ‘Ohana Center of Excellence has several stories of the significance of Lunar Near Year, and how we each celebrate this time of year.

On Feb 3rd, from 6-8 p.m, at Milpitas Civic Center Plaza, the local communities celebrated the Lunar New Year with live performances by the Aimusic School, VietYouth, Cantrelle’s Martial Arts, and Tina Dance School. The local communities were immersed in the festivity during this two-hour cultural feast. We enjoyed songs in ethnic languages and the music played with traditional musical instruments. The kids were happily engaged in creative crafts including making a dragon and calligraphy (see the picture of the word Dragon written in calligraphy by my 6-years old daughter). It was a great opportunity to inspire her to learn Chinese words and Chinese culture.

The word Dragon written in calligraphy
The word Dragon written in calligraphy by my 6-year old daughter.
Play Video

The lion and dragon dances were the highlights of the joyful event (see the video), which ended with a thrilling round of firecrackers. The firecrackers reminded me of all the Lunar New Year holidays that I spent in China before I came to the U.S. Many years ago, before the ban on firecrackers due to air pollution, almost every house in China lit firecracker on New Year’s Eve, while the family members get together to enjoy delicious traditional food and toast for a new year!

Ni and daughter at Milpitas Civic Center Plaza Lunar New Year celebration

Now let me make a toast to you: wish you a happy new year of Dragon, be as energetic as a dragon, and everything goes well for you. But don’t drink too much at parties. 😊 祝大家龙年,龙虎精神,万事兴“龙”!聚会时请不要贪杯哦。

Final appreciation to all the volunteers, community members, and local governments that made this event with free admission for all the communities happen. Thank you and happy new year!

The first day of the Asian Lunar New Year in 2024 is February 10, 2024. For many Asian families around the globe, New Year’s Eve, is the most important night with a tradition of gathering for a special dinner with family and preparing specific traditional foods. Many of the traditions have a spiritual aspect with a recognition of connection to ancestors, the elderly, and a celebration of children. This year New Year’s Eve is February 9th. The celebrations will continue for 15 days with visits to family and friends and the exchange of gifts of food and fruit along with red envelopes of lucky money for children. In my family, we spend days preparing food for New Year’s Eve dinner and buy gifts of food, plants, and lucky peach and plum blossom branches for neighbors and friends to be shared in the coming 15 days. We also clean our homes and family shrines to welcome the new year in good luck, health, and fortune. It is a time of renewal, a connection to the past and to the future.

Kyoung Mi Choi is a Professor in the Department of Counselor Education at San José State University, Program Specialist at the AANHPI ‘Ohana Center of Excellence. She is a regularly contributor to Psychology Today, Courageously and Boldly.

Memories of Seollal, Korean Lunar New Year

Having grown up in South Korea, I enjoyed the excitement surrounding the Lunar New Year, also known as Gujeong (구정) or Seollal (설날). Although I didn’t fully understand why we celebrated twice – once on the first day of January based on the solar calendar and again on the first day of the lunar calendar, which changes each year, I have fond memories of all the delicious dishes we had, such as Tteokguk (떡국, rice cake soup, a popular holiday dish symbolizing the gaining of a year in age), Jeon (전, savory pancakes), mandu (만두, dumplings), Japchae (잡채, a stir-fried dish made with glass noodles), and Bulgogi (불고기, thinly sliced marinated beef).

Family gatherings were filled with laughter and traditional games like Yutnori (윷놀이, a board game played with sticks). For children, it was common to wear traditional Korean clothing (한복, Hanbok) and fly kites (연날리기) with other kids in the neighborhood in the crispy cold air.

Children with Hanbok (Korean traditional cloths)
Children with Hanbok (Korean traditional cloths). Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Traditional Korean Food for Seollal courtesy of Korea.NET
Traditional Korean Food for Seollal courtesy of Korea.NET

During Seollal, we observed the special traditional bowing ceremony called Sebae (세배), where younger family members bow to their elders as a sign of respect and to receive blessings for the new year. In return, elders give blessings and money to the younger generation. I often saved the money, Sebaedone (세벳돈), received during Sebae to buy school supplies and books I desired but couldn’t afford.

Since immigrating to the United States over 20 years ago, I’ve sought to maintain my cultural connections and traditions, much like many other Korean Americans. Celebrating Seollal allows me to gather with Asian and Asian American friends and families, sharing our ancestral foods and reflecting on our immigration journeys. This sense of community and belonging is palpable among many Asian American friends and families.

I discovered that the Bay Area hosts numerous cultural events and community celebrations, providing opportunities to reconnect with my childhood memories and cultural identity. If you’re in the Bay Area, I invite you to join me in celebrating this special month with our families, friends, and communities as we honor our diverse traditions and heritages.

Here are some events you might consider attending:

The Lunar New Year is a significant celebration that holds a special place in the cultural heritage of various Asian communities, such as Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Mongolian, Malaysian, Indonesian, Singaporean, and more. This vibrant festivity is based on the lunar calendar and begins with the first new moon and ends on the first full moon. It symbolizes the start of a new year filled with good fortune and happiness.

This year, 2024, marks the Year of the Wood Dragon that symbolizes strength and the fulfillment of aspirations. The celebration begins on February 9th, and it is a time of cultural reflection and festivity (source).

The Lunar New Year is celebrated in various communities throughout the United States, particularly among Asian American communities. According to a Pew Research Center study, around two-thirds of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese Americans participate in Lunar New Year festivities (source).

Although not an official federal holiday in the United States, the Lunar New Year is gaining recognition. This is exemplified by California’s recent acknowledgment of the event. In 2022, the state, which boasts the largest Asian American population in the country, officially observed the occasion. Governor Newsom signed AB 2596, designating the Lunar New Year as a state holiday. This allows state employees to take the day off in honor of this culturally significant event (source).

Similar strides have been made in major cities like New York, where the Lunar New Year is recognized as a school holiday (source).

The Lunar New Year has a deep cultural and social significance that goes beyond just the festivities. It has a positive impact on emotional and psychological well-being. The celebration helps to foster family bonds, social connections, and a sense of cultural identity. The engagement in traditional customs and rituals also fosters a shared cultural experience that reduces isolation and enhances social cohesion. This is especially important for first-generation immigrants, like myself, who have limited family support in the United States.

During this time, I find comfort and connection by reaching out to loved ones in South Korea and the United States, inviting friends over, preparing traditional Korean dishes, and participating in community events. All these activities help me stay connected to my cultural heritage, which enhances my emotional and psychological welfare.

Lunar New Year on the Westside of Kaua‘i

I have rather fond memories of learning cultural traditions in Hawaii, the island of Kauai specifically. I was raised on the westside of the island in a town of primarily Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese immigrants. Starting in elementary school, we regularly learned about cultural traditions of Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and the Asian immigrants that worked in the sugar cane plantations. One of my vivid memories is learning about Lunar New Year, then referred to as Chinese New Year. We learned the Cantonese greeting for Lunar New Year (Gong Hay Fat Choy) and created either decorations or accessories in celebration of the holiday. I loved learning about the lunar zodiac and feeling immensely proud (and lucky) to be born in the year of the dragon. You could feel when the holiday was approaching as the Buddhist temples and local restaurants began adorning red and gold for the holiday. Naturally then, it only feels fitting to share these memories as we are about to ring in the year of the dragon again!

Now, learning about Lunar New Year was great. But what really got me excited was the food and the lion dancers. I remember the first time I encountered lion dancers. I was probably in kindergarten at the time and so our class was seated closer to the stage. It was thrilling to hear the drums and chimes begin the performance and to see the lion on stage. Its comically large head, brilliant red and gold body, and beautifully adorned face and mane will be forever an image that I remember. I remember the tricks and comedy that happened on stage and thoroughly delighted at watching the performance. What happened next will also be a lifelong memory. To my surprise, lion came down from the stage! No longer was I a spectator but now I was an active participant. Imagine my panic as one of the performers on stage announced on the microphone, “If the lion snaps or tries to bite you, that’s okay. That’s lucky!” Little five-year-old me could not comprehend how anything biting you could be lucky. I joined my classmates in the screaming and laughing that ensued as the lion made its rounds around the students.

When the assembly was dismissed, I breathed a sigh of relief and reminded myself that the best was yet to come, food! During this time, many foods got associated with Lunar New Year but the typical roster of dishes that I remember would be: manapua (steamed pork char siu buns), Chinese pretzels, kimchi, manju, stir-fried noodles (fried saimin and pancit), and dumplings (fried wonton). These foods were always around but were especially consumed at least in our house around the time of Lunar New Year.

Besides food though, my family did not do much else to celebrate Lunar New Year. As Filipino immigrants, they came from areas of the Philippines that did not celebrate Lunar New Year. The Philippines does have a significant Chinese community that observes the Lunar New Year. The influence of Chinese culture in the Philippines dates back centuries, with the arrival of Chinese immigrants who settled in the archipelago long before the Spanish colonization. Over time, these immigrants integrated into Filipino society while retaining their cultural practices, including the celebration of Lunar New Year. Today, Chinese-Filipinos, also known as Tsinoys, play a significant role in preserving and enriching these traditions.

As the holiday quickly approaches, I am excited to continue on enjoying the festivities and foods of Lunar New Year!

What is ‘Ohana?

‘Ohana – what is an ‘ohana?

‘Ohana, Aiga, Kainga, Kopu tangata, Magafaoa, Whanau—Family, is central to Pacific communities and is part of our Pacific people’s cultural identity. While we understand the Pacific is not monolithic, there are some cultural values like family that are shared throughout. We have chosen to use the Native Hawaiian word ‘ohana and will define family through its use. ‘Ohana is most often translated as “family, relative, kin group, or to be related to”. But it can also mean “to gather for family prayers, lineage, race, tribe, or those who dwell together and compose a family.” As we makawalu—look deeper, into this concept, we can look to the concepts and root words within ʻohana.

Native Hawaiians much like other Pacific Islanders can trace their genealogical lineage back to the birth of their islands and people. Papahānaumoku earth mother, and Wākea sky father, together birthed the islands and Hoʻohōkūkalani stars. Wākea and Hoʻohokukalani together birthed a child who was still. In their sadness, they named their child Hāloa, meaning long or eternal breath. After burying Hāloa, a plant grew from the same space where they had buried their child. This plant had heart-shaped leaves and was the first kalo (taro). Their second child was also named Hāloa in honor of his older brother. Hāloa became the first Hawaiian person, and all those descended from him were fed and sustained by the kalo, his older brother. This relationship highlights the importance of teu le vā /tauhi vā an important Pacific value that describes the ongoing cultural obligation one has to tend to, look after, or nurture our families, our villages, and our environment.

When we break down the word ‘ohana – ‘oha + na. The ‘oha refers to the corm of the kalo. Native Hawaiians view the ‘oha as the root of all. We see this linkage through the genealogical story of Papahānaumoku and Wākea. After planting, the kalo can create many keiki (children) or small offshoots, yet all are descendants of the same ‘oha. This concept illustrates that in Hawaiian and Pacific Islander thinking, it does not matter how we are related; we all descend from the same lineage and are connected. Our ʻohana includes not only those who are related by blood, but all those that we come in contact with including the animate and in-animate relationships we have with ʻāina (land), elements, rocks, trees, ʻaumakua (family spiritual guardians), akua (gods, higher power), and all animals on land, in the air, and the ocean.

For Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders within ‘ohana, there are no barriers; everyone should feel safe and cared for. ‘Ohana, fosters the reciprocal relationship between kānaka (people), ‘āina (land), and akua/pili ‘uhane (spirituality). We are all one ‘ohana.

“Every cloud, rainstorm, lightning flash, ti plant, and maile vine was a body form of Kane. Rainclouds, rain, lush ferns, aholehole fish and certain types of seaweed revealed the god Lono. The god Kanaloa was represented by the deep ocean depths by squid, octopus and certain kinds of seashells” (William Pila Kikuchi, “Heritage of Kaua‘i,”

—The Native Hawaiian, February 1979, Vol. 111, No. 4, page 4).

Pono Shim, a beloved Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, and kumu shared the teachings of Aunty Pilahi Paki concerning ‘ohana, she said, “The world will turn to Hawai‘i as they search for world peace because Hawai‘i has the key… And that key is Aloha!” Pono Shim further explained that another root of the word ‘ohana, is hana. While hana is translated as “work”, and when understood through a Hawaiian and Pacific Islander lens, hana much like teu le vā /tauhi vā is the call to act or do something.

To break down the word further, ha-na, “when we ha, breathe, we na release, set free, through akahai, grace, leaving it better than you found it. ‘O refers to of or eternal/eternity. So, when we na, we unleash never-ending grace..”

“All the members of an ‘ohana, hana forever. The concept is to honor each person’s hana. We have space for people to expand, recover, discover, innovate, and improve their hana. We Honor and need each other’s hana—that’s ‘ohana”

The term ‘Ohana has been adapted by many Asian Americans living in Hawai‘i or the West Coast of continental United States as a term more fitting than the English word “family” which tends to imply a nuclear family.

Kalo Connections across the Pacific and Asia

Kalo was not native to Hawai‘i. In fact, some of the first written records of kalo came from China, around 200 BC. The first Polynesian voyagers who traversed the oceans and settled in Hawai‘i may have carried kalo plants on their double-hulled canoes to help sustain them wherever they would travel (citation).

Kalo, also known as taro is an ancient food crop first domesticated 9000 years in Asia. Historically, taro has been a subsistence crop cultivated throughout Asia, Hawai‘i, Associated Pacific Islands, and West Africa.

Photo credit: Kumu Hula Kapuaokalani “Stacey” Kaʻauʻa – Hālau Unuokeahi