by Elyse Wild • photo by Two Eagles Marcus
The inaugural Grand Rapids Asian Festival takes over Rosa Parks Circle on Saturday, June 10. Along with celebrating time-honored traditions from a variety of Asian nations, the festival will also explore the experiences within contemporary Asian life.
Katie Bozek, one if eight committee members behind planning the festival, is a Korean adoptee and speaks of the experience of growing up as an American yet feeling disconnected from her Korean roots.
“I am very excited for the festival, because I see an opportunity for kids like me,” Bozek said. “West Michigan has a very large Asian adopted population from a lot of Asian countries.”
Bozek and the committee worked diligently to craft a celebration that includes and showcases a wide range of countries in Asia; along with experiencing aspects of Japan, China and Korea, attendees will have the opportunity to delve into the cultures of Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia and India, among others.
Although national artists and performers will be present, the organizers were intentional about the festival being a platform for the thriving local Asian community.
“We want to showcase the fact that we do have Asian talent here in West Michigan,” festival committee member Zyra Castillo said.
The morning will kick off at 10 a.m. with a presentation and workshop on the art of Japanese paper folding led by West Michigan origami artist Stacey Tamaki, followed by a live performance by renowned Filipino script calligraphy artist Kristian Kabuay, who is traveling from San Francisco to make a special appearance at the festival. Dancers will be out in full force throughout the day, with performances showcasing a torrent of traditional dances including Indonesian, Laotian, Filipino and Chinese, and Michigan Hiryu Daiko will be performing Taiko Drumming, a Japanese percussion art.
For those unfamiliar with Asian cuisine, now is the time to dive in and send your palate on a delightful journey. Although vendors will be serving Americanized fare, menus will include traditional dishes likely unexplored by Westerners. Korean eatery Emonea will be serving bulgogi (Korean barbecue), and Kalbi (beef short ribs); Filipino food truck Sanse’ is dishing out pancit (fried rice noodles), Dinuguan with Puto (stew with a pig’s blood base); Vietnamese United Methodist Church will be offering Vietnamese egg rolls and Bánh mì (a sandwich typically comprised of French bread, cilantro, cucumbers, pickled carrots and radishes, chili peppers, pâté and meat). And that’s just for starters.
“For the most part, our vendors are going to be having staple foods from (their) countries,” Castillo shared. “They will staple dishes that are very friendly to people who may not be adventurous eaters.”
After filling up on delectable dishes, you will have plenty of chances to get moving with participation activities demonstrating a number of traditional and contemporary practices. Stretch it out with Benji Mason as she leads a Hatha Yoga class, try your hand at Tai Chi with Master Lee’s School of Tai Chi Praying Mantis Kung Du and Thai Chi Jung, learn about Kali and Silat (Filipino and Indonesian martial arts) or get acquainted with Okinawan martial art Uechi-Ryu.
Although the festival is chock full of exciting activities, bounties of delicious food and alcoholic beverages to wash it down with, it’s more than just a fun way to spend your Saturday; it’s an opportunity to become familiar with the longstanding, vibrant and diverse Asian community of West Michigan.
“Part of what I want people to take away from the festival is yes, come celebrate, but we are a resource, we are a platform,” Bozek said. “Please, share your experience and stories.”
For more information and a full schedule of events, please visit grasianfestival.com.