At home all day, bored and restless? How about a walk through the park? If that sounds like a plan, we have the perfect park for you- the Asian Gardens. The Asian Gardens is open every day, sunup until sundown. Here’s the story of our beautiful multicultural garden.
At the intersection of Texas Avenue and Milam Street sits a small patch of land that was a small park, heavy on concrete and slim on beauty. Its small beds were overgrown and littered, the western sun beat down on the hard surface without mercy; a towering art piece bearing the name ‘Homage to Shreveport’ was its only real definition. The Downtown Development Authority knew that a small group was interested in creating a truly special place for all to enjoy and solicited the City of Shreveport to support them. The City did, allowing the group to ‘adopt’ the space, which has became known as the ASEANA Asian Gardens. It is interesting to note that all save one of the people who started this major multi-year garden love fest came to U.S. citizenship not by birth, but by desire. They represent countries such as India, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Japan and their names sound exotic, too…Sophy and Yoshi, Shobda and Lumen. They have since added the people and cultures of Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Myanmar, Laos, Korea, and Burma; an Asian melting pot in the heart of a traditional Southern city… and there is no doubt they have helped make us something better than we were before.
Lumen Tindell, one of the founders of the Asian Garden, immigrated to the U.S. in 1970 from the Philippines. If you had told her then that many of her weekends and much of her spare cash would go into beautifying a desolate patch of downtown Shreveport concrete, she would have laughed. Now, she is happy that it has. “We all had a common desire to give back to the community,” she said of her initial group. “We were willing to give our time and do the physical work, the really difficult physical work.” They have endured theft and vandalism and mounds of trash and have overcome in an area she called ‘a haven of bad things.’ In the 12 years since, the group, now called the ASEANA Foundation, has never stopped working and have added beds representing 12 Asian cultures. The park- now a colorful and joyful place that continues to change- features tilework and statuary, pagodas and blooming trees and plants.
If you are lucky enough to travel into downtown on a special Saturday twice a year, you will find yourself following your nose to delicious Asian street food, standing in the middle of a Chinese street fair, weaving through Thai dancers or an Indian festival of lights during the groups’ twice-yearly Asian festivals.
For many, it will be as close to one of these faraway and mysterious cultures as we might come. “That is precisely the purpose of the park,” Tindell says. “We not only wanted to make it more beautiful, but a place to showcase the different cultures in Shreveport.” They have succeeded on both counts. With so much in the news about immigrants and the U.S. response to them, there are many things that could be said. Instead, I encourage you to participate in the upcoming festival on March 25 that will celebrate Vietnam, volunteer to help the group on a work day, donate some money to their cause or just come by the park on a day when your spirits need a lift. You will find a place filled with care and love and beauty…all gifts of one culture to another.