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May 7, 2008 > Annual festival celebrates Asian heritage

Annual festival celebrates Asian heritage

By Julie Grabowski

The month of May is one of the most festive with a seemingly endless list of celebrations. On Saturday, May 10 the Tri-City area welcomes back a growing tradition, the Asian American Heritage Festival.

Commemoration of Asian cultures in America began when President Jimmy Carter signed a resolution in the late 70's proclaiming the first week in May as Asian American Heritage Week. In 1990 President George W. Bush expanded that honor to encompass the entire month. Asian community leaders were invited to the White House the following year for a celebration gala and to observe the signing of the proclamation.

Hayward's John Hsieh was among them. "I felt really lucky. We should cherish whatever we have here." He was eager for Asian people to get involved in the celebration of their heritage and on his return to the Bay Area, set to work with other community members to create the Taiwanese Cultural Festival in 1993. It was transformed into the Asian American Heritage Festival in 1994 in San Jose. Since then the festival has been held in Newark, Fremont, Santa Clara, and Union City. Hsieh says the group likes the idea of moving around.

As of April 22, the month of May has received yet another designation: Older Americans Month. "It is a perfect time for our Tri-City [residents] to celebrate these two festivals together," says Hsieh, who is also part of the Community Ambassador Program for Seniors (CAPS). CAPS volunteers are trained to assist seniors, finding resources for their specific needs - transportation, translation and interpretive services, housing, applications for Social Security and medical benefits. "It's an encouragement to all community members," Hsieh says of CAPS, part of Pathways to Positive Aging, a project of the Tri-City Elder Coalition and the City of Fremont Human Services.

This new addition to the month of celebrations makes the 15th Asian American Heritage Festival special in that it will be operating with two themes: Unity in Diversity and Respect to Seniors. The Saturday event promises a vibrant collection of music, dance, ethnic foods, arts and crafts, and cultural displays. Opening ceremonies begin at 11 a.m. with a flag presentation by Boy Scouts Troop 20 followed by Kiley Tchang performing the national anthem. Festival founder John Hsieh and other community leaders will deliver opening messages, and after prayer and guest speeches, over 120 performers are scheduled to bring their talents to the stage. Performances include Taiko Drummers, Yamot/Pinatubo Cultural Ensemble performing dances of the Philippines, Thai classical dancers from Wat Buddhanusorn in Fremont, Hawaiian dance, Taiwanese dances and show, and Middle Eastern musicians and dancers.

In addition to local performers, three groups from Taiwan are flying in at their own expense to present special programs. Changhua Human Care Association, an advocacy team of women who work in conjunction with Changhua County Fire Department teaching people about fire prevention; the 46-member Fine Art Orchestra; and Hsin Chuang City Opera, which was begun in 1997 by a group of housewives. Studying opera on Saturdays and weekends under the professional tutelage of Ming Hua Yuan Opera, they have established themselves as an outstanding group in Taiwan.

It would be wonderful to fly around the world to experience other cultures says Hsieh, but the festival is a great alternative. "Save the trip and cost," he laughs. "In our community is the world."

"It's the ideal place for the community member to attend. It's relaxed, like a fair," says Hsieh. "Since Asian American Heritage Month has been recognized by the entire nation, I think local people should get involved. If we had better understanding of each other we could be a more harmonious society. We can learn from each other and have good friendship."

Visit the Asian American Federation of California online at www.aafc-ca.org, or for more information on the festival contact John Hsieh at (510) 784-7341.

Asian American Heritage Festival
Saturday, May 10
11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church
32975 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City
(510) 784-7341
Free admission

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