The Rapidian

Grand Rapids' first annual Asian Festival debuts in summer 2017

To raise awareness about and share the food, entertainment, and traditions of Asian culture, a team of eight Grand Rapids community members has come together to plan and execute the City’s first Asian Festival.
Members of the local Asian community in traditional dress

Members of the local Asian community in traditional dress /Jimmy Le

Underwriting support from:
Traditional dress of the Philippines

Traditional dress of the Philippines /Jucy Day

The two most common responses when talking about the Grand Rapids Asian Festival have been, “I didn’t know we had an Asian Festival” and, “Don’t we already have an Asian Festival?”

The answer is: We don’t. Yet. But, that’s about to change.

Ace Marasigan, who immigrated to the United States when he was 16, is one of the main organizers of the event, set for June 10, 2017. Originally from the Philippines, he spent many years trying to assimilate to American culture. But, in doing so, he realized he wasn’t honoring his own heritage—and, more importantly, he wasn’t giving others the opportunity to understand and appreciate it as well.

In conversations with other Asian-Pacific Americans in Grand Rapids, it became evident that there was a need and a desire to not just raise awareness about Asian culture, but also to celebrate it. In October of 2016, the first plans were made for the Grand Rapids Asian Festival, with willing support and guidance from the West Michigan Asian American Association. As the word spread, seven more community members joined in the effort.

Grand Rapids is home to a diversity of Asian-Pacific Americans, including citizens from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Thailand, India, Hawaii, Guam, and Samoa. The organizers of the event feel it is important to feature activities and participants from as many Asian cultures as possible, in an effort to inform Grand Rapids residents of that diversity. Katie Bozek, Ph.D., who is on the planning committee, said, “One of our drives in doing the Festival is for it to be part fun and part exposure to culture, but also education—that all of these countries are part of Asia. We’re trying to find a balance between our cultural roots and what contemporary Asian Americans look like—from food to entertainment.”

The Festival will be held on June 10, 2017, at Rosa Parks Circle from 11:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. Attendees will be able to sample authentic Asian food from a variety of local restaurants, watch traditional dance and martial arts performances, listen to live music, take part in origami and chopsticks workshops, sing karaoke, and attend an after-party with DJ Ace later in the evening. There will also be vendors selling Asian wares and non-profit groups providing resources for the community. The committee is still adding activities and vendors, and they encourage anyone interested in participating to join the public Facebook group page and post a message to it.

Though the Festival is still a few months away, the committee wants to get as much exposure as possible. While they have many high-profile sponsors, including Old National Bank, Amway Hotels, Celebration! Cinema, Global Concept, and the Wege Foundation, they welcome additional support to help make the event a success. They also need volunteers - lots of volunteers. In addition to set-up, wayfinding, trash pick-up, vendor support, and break-down, they’re also organizing a street team to distribute flyers about a month in advance. Those who want to volunteer in any capacity are also encouraged to connect on the group page.

When I asked a few of the organizers why they’re so passionate about bringing this event to Grand Rapids, here’s what they said:

“It’s important to our city. We need to bridge the gap of understanding and help diminish racial prejudices about Asian culture. And, we need to celebrate us. I feel pride in my Filipino culture and I don’t think I’ve expressed myself enough. I have food and traditions I want to share, as well as the struggles of being an immigrant. And, the selfish part of me wants this for my three-year-old son. I want him to grow up in a place that he’s proud of, where he can identify with others like him.” – Ace Marasigan

“The festival, to me, means so much because I am a Korean adoptee. There is a very long history of Asian adoption, specifically from Korea, in Grand Rapids. Growing up, I didn’t know we had an Asian community; I didn’t know it existed in Grand Rapids. As an adult, it’s been very important for me to engage in the community, to reach out, to understand that how I look, there’s actually a whole community out there who look that way. And, also, for my children, for them to see that we have a very diverse community and to be proud of their Asian heritage.” – Katie Bozek, Ph.D.

“I am super excited and honored to be a part of the inaugural Grand Rapids Asian Festival. It truly is combining so many of the things I am passionate about in one amazing day in a city I love. By bringing the Asian culture through music, dance, performances, food, and kids’ activities, we hope to share who we are to the rest of Grand Rapids. Our goal is to have activities for everyone and we hope that the rest of the city is just as excited as we (the planning team) are!” – Ashley Diersch

Whether you participate directly or just attend the Festival, you’ll not only be celebrating Asian culture, you’ll also be giving back to the community. A portion of the proceeds from the event will be put aside to invest in next year’s Asian Festival, but the majority of them will go to Kids’ Food Basket and the West Michigan Asian American Association to help fund their scholarships.

Key Dates:

Tuesday, May 9, 2017: Asian Gala at the Goei Center
(contact Minnie Morey at (616) 481-6194 for more information)

Friday, June 9, 2017: Asian Night Out at the JW Marriott Grand Rapids

Saturday, June 10, 2017: Grand Rapids Asian Festival

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