CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The month of May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. But all throughout the year, Coastal Bend residents don't have to go far or look too hard to experience the sights, sounds and even cuisine with Asian influences.
The city of Corpus Christi is home to the only Asian museum in the southern U.S.
The Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures showcases the intrigue and admiration one woman had for countries she traveled through. Her name was Billie Trimble Chandler.
"This was her private collection that the museum was started from and Mrs. Chandler opened it in 1974," Richard Hafemeister, the Director of Operations/COO of the Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures said. "It was moved to its current location (in) 1996 (and) it's expanded a lot since then."
The Asian Cultures Museum, was founded as a nonprofit organization. At the museum you can find historic figures and artifacts. Chandler's vision was to educate the public and show them the unique qualities of Asia.
"We have a really unique resource. And with that comes an opportunity and responsibility to bring that resource out to the community as much as possible." Hafemeister said. "Mark Twain said it best. You can't know the world and have healthy views of yourself and others without exploring the world and being exposed to it."
Hitomi Sakakibara has the same goal in mind. She's from Japan and ended up in Corpus Christi last fall through the Japan Outreaach Initiative Program (JOI).
The JOI Program is a joint initiative of the Japan Foundation and Laurasian Institution, which brings volunteer Japanese coordinators to regions of the U.S. where Japanese culture has been less accessible.
JOI coordinators are hosted by U.S. nonprofits and educational institutions with a strong commitment to promoting learning about Japan. During the two-year program, JOI coordinators engage their American community through Japanese-themed programming—from lectures to hands-on elementary school activities to events focusing on traditional Japanese art forms.
Sakakibara is working with the Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures.
"Every time I have a workshop and event, I ask what they know about Japan. People know about anime, manga, and video games and sushi and ramen, but the Japanese culture is more about respecting each other and thinking about other people. That is more important," she said.
Sakakibara provides interactive experiences related to Japanese food, art, and culture. She plans to remain in Corpus Christi for the full length of her volunteer effort, which would be completed by the the summer of 2024. Within that timeframe, she also hopes to discover the Coastal Bend and learn more about American culture.
"Each person has a different background, history and story, and if we know and understand each other more, then it's good," she said.