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Grand Rapids gathers to celebrate Asian culture, heritage at first festival

Grand Rapids hosted the first Asian Festival on Saturday, June 10, 2017 at Rosa Parks Circle. The festival was a cultural celebration with music, entertainment, food and dance.
Grand Rapids hosted the first ever Asian Festival on Saturday, June 10, 2017.

Grand Rapids hosted the first ever Asian Festival on Saturday, June 10, 2017. /Kiran Sood Patel

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Vendors prepare sandwiches at the Asian Festival on Saturday, June 10, 2017.

Vendors prepare sandwiches at the Asian Festival on Saturday, June 10, 2017. /Kiran Sood Patel

A fashion show participant on stage during Asian Festival.

A fashion show participant on stage during Asian Festival. /Kiran Sood Patel

On Saturday, Grand Rapids hosted the inaugural Asian Festival in downtown Grand Rapids at Rosa Parks Circle. The energy for the first festival was high. It was truly a celebration of diversity and community representing the rich fabric of Asian cultures from around the world who call Grand Rapids, and the surrounding communities, home.

All around Rosa Parks Circle, vendors displayed their products. There were paintings, ethnic attire, snacks and beverages available for purchase. Underneath bright blue tents, food from a variety of regions was available. Crowds waited in line for Korean barbecue, egg rolls, Crab Rangoon, Indian samosas, butter chicken, boba tea and much more.

People sought shelter from the heat wherever they could, either in a shady spot with a view of the main stage, or on the sides of the venue. Others walked around under the shade of brightly colored umbrellas.

Attendees also roamed the festival grounds waiting for the henna tattoos on their hands to dry. Henna is a temporary tattoo used in India and Middle Eastern countries during festivals, weddings and special events.

I was thrilled to be in attendance for the first Asian Festival and honored to get the opportunity to say a few words on stage about The Rapidian and our role in telling the community’s stories. I was invited to do so by festival organizer, Ace Marasigan, who did an amazing job orchestrating the event.

One highlight for me was seeing a performance to the popular song “Mastani” from the Hindi movie “Bajirao Mastani.” I’m a huge fan of Bollywood music and it was great to see the performers dancing in our traditional attire and the crowd hearing a taste of the type of song and dance I grew up with. My only request would have been to turn up the music even louder.

There was also a Karaoke competition and a colorful performance by Lion Dancers. “Lion dance is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture and other Asian countries in which performers mimic a lion's movements in a lion costume,” according to a description in the event program. The Fashion Show was a fun way to see attire from many countries represented.

I made sure to time my attendance to see Marasigan’s performance with the RevelAsians at 6:30 p.m. I heard the band perform for the first time last Thursday on GR Live. RevelAsians is a Filipino rock band based in Grand Rapids, with some songs in Tagalog and English. The band was full of energy and got the crowd, including me, off of our seats to dance. Their catchy music was fantastic.

The best part of the event was seeing people from many ethnicities gather to celebrate Asian culture and what it adds to Grand Rapids. I grew up in suburban Chicago and was surrounded by a strong Indian community my entire life. I am still searching for that connection and culture in Grand Rapids. To see a gathering of other Indians was heartening. It also inspired me to get involved in planning future events. I had a wonderful time at the first ever Grand Rapids Asian Festival. I look forward to attending next year and seeing how this event grows and blossoms.

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