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May 11, 2010 > Asian American Heritage Festival

Asian American Heritage Festival

By Fina Mora
Photos By courtesy of Simon Wong

On Saturday, May 15, the seventeenth annual Asian American Heritage Festival is scheduled to take place. Visitors will be treated to a program of stage performances of ethnic dance, music, songs, and martial arts while having an opportunity to sample ethnic foods, shop for unique items and browse among interesting cultural displays representing the diversified cultures of Asia.

Asian Pacific Heritage Month is a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese people to the United States on May 7, 1843 and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869.

It originated in a congressional bill when on June 1977; Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California introduced a House resolution that called upon the president to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian Pacific Heritage Week. The following month, senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Both bills passed and on October 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a Joint Resolution designating the annual celebration. Twelve years later, President George H.W. Bush signed an extension making the weeklong celebration into a month-long one. In 1992, the official designation of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month became a law.

The Bay Area Asian American community formed the Asian American Federation of California to celebrate the first Asian Festival in San Jose in 1994 and continues the celebration, rotating from city to city between San Jose, Fremont, Union City, Newark, Santa Clara and Sacramento; this year's festival is in Union City. The goal of the organization is to promote Asian culture and cultural understanding, resulting in increased community peace.

"The main reason why the broad community likes the Asian Festival is the unity in diversity. Every year we organize/present multicultural information booths and a performance program to our visitors and audience. We learn from each other and respect each other's unique identity and culture. A group of Caucasians, led by Terry and Susan Eustice, came and participated in our celebration [and] learned and grew from the festival. Now they formed their own organization, Wadaiko Newark, and teach hundreds of students [to play] Taiko Drum every year," says John Hsieh, Asian American Heritage Festival Founder.

This year's festival will feature over 200 performers with live ethnic performances by local residents from Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand and other Asian Pacific countries. Performances include Taiko Drummers, Thai classical dancers, cultural dances from the Philippines, belly dancers, Hawaiian hula, Taiwanese cultural dances, Polynesian dance, Indian Bhangara and Chinese classical dance.

Every year, the festival recognizes the outstanding Asian American or American who serves the community. "We give awards to those outstanding leaders, recognizing their contribution to the community. We gave 'The 2009 Asian American Heritage Award in Outstanding Community Service' to Alberto Torrico last year and this year we are going to present the award to Garrett Yee, thanks to his service to the army and contribution to the community," Hsieh said.

He noted, "May is not only the Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month; it is also the Older American Month. Since 2008, the Asian American Federation of California and the Tri-City CAPS (Community Ambassador Program for Seniors) partner to celebrate the Asian Festival and Respect Seniors Festival together [because] respecting the seniors is a very significant culture of Asian Americans."

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

17th Annual Asian American Heritage Festival
"Unity in Diversity"
Saturday, May 15
11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church
32975 Alvarado-Niles Rd., Union City
Free admission
(510) 784-7341

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