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Houston Celebrates Asian Culture

Chinese Dragon Painted Carved Wooden Boat
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By Thomas Korosec

For Jackie Abert, 75, of Houston, volunteering with AARP Texas comes with a fringe benefit. After helping at the sign-in table for events and classes that the organization cosponsors with the Asia Society Texas Center, she can join in the fun.

Abert, a retired accounting employee at an oil company, has taken a class in ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, and attended a performance of South of Gold Mountain, a dance production depicting Chinese settlers in the American South before World War II.

Asia Society Texas Center, now in its third year of a partnership with AARP Texas, draws robust attendance for its programs.

“It’s a mixture of their mission with our mission, which is healthy living at any age,” observed Tina Tran, Houston director of outreach and advocacy for AARP Texas.

“We’re exposing our membership to new ways of achieving physical health, mental health. We have healthy cooking with Asian flavors, programming in meditation, yoga, tai chi.”

The last activity is a form of exercise that promotes serenity and stress reduction through gentle, flowing movements.

The nonprofit Asia Society was founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III to promote knowledge of Asia in the United States. The Houston chapter, opened in 1979, includes late first lady Barbara Bush among its founders.

About 6.7 percent of Houston residents are Asian, according to U.S. Census figures, and the numbers are growing quickly.

AARP also reaches out to this population by working with Asian American community organizations on other events,
said Tran.

“Our board felt that we needed to build a center where we’re not just focused on the business and policy side but also on Asian culture, history and beliefs,” explained Bonna Kol, president of the Asia Society Texas Center.

AARP members may attend programs for free at the center, located in Houston’s Museum District in a building designed by renowned Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi.

“We love working with AARP, and older adults are a priority group for us,” Kol said. “It allows us to introduce Eastern rituals, such as meditation, that bring wellness and longevity.”

Classes promote healthy life

In one of this year’s Asia Society classes, participants will discuss Zen Buddhism and how meditation promotes well-being, and learn relaxation techniques they can use in their daily lives.

A culinary class conducted by a local chef will include a demonstration and discussion of Asian cooking and healthy eating.

Another session, offered with the Japan Foundation’s Center for Global Partnership, will explore the ancient customs of Japanese tea ceremonies.

Also offered is a dance-fitness class that taps into the infectious energy of Bollywood, the Indian film industry, and features song and dance numbers combining various styles.

Abert said her Asia Society experiences have broadened her knowledge of Houston’s diversity. Best of all, she said, “I’ve made new friends who aren’t all like me.”

For more information about these events, check aarp.org/houston or call 877-926-8300.

Thomas Korosec is a writer living in Dallas.

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