The Tampa Bay area celebrated the 31st anniversary celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage month, which is May, with its annual Asia Festival and Dragon Boat Races on April 26h. Fourteen Asian countries, the United States and Florida were represented at the community festival at Cotanchobee Park in the Channelside area of Tampa. Visitors also came to watch the colorful dragon boat races near the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“The one thing we know about Asian Americans in our country’s history does not only have they built this country, they also defended this country. We have a rich history of people from the Far East coming here, building this country and making it stronger with their diversity. So, it is with my great pleasure to present this proclamation from the City of Tampa,” said Tampa Councilman Mike Suarez, who filled in for Mayor Bob Buckhorn this year.
“This has truly been a historical event and week in Hillsborough County with “Bollywood” on Wednesday and the track, boat races and Asia Fest today. It’s really about bringing people and cultures together…about bridging the gaps between the East and the West…and that’s what is so important.
We celebrate with everybody here,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner.
As always this time of year, the Asia Fest crowd weathered the hot weather and enjoyed the live, free entertainment on stage. Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese food was available from vendors. Some visitors wore their native Asian or Pacific American costumes and brought parasols. First-time visitors came as far as Nepal, the Villages near Ocala and the Orlando area.
Volunteers of the Asian American Coalition of Florida, a non- profit, plan and coordinate the annual festival.
“The majority of the audience (this year) was non-Asian, and that’s our goal. That’s whatwe want, although we love to have Asian American participation. Since sharing our culture, educating the public about the real Asia, better understanding and developing good friendship between the East and West are our goals, I felt really complemented that they chose to come to Asia Fest,” said Dr. Kimi Springsteen, AACF’s Chairman and Asia Fest’s Founder. Springsteen also is the Asian Community Liason in Hillsborough County’s Office of Community Affairs.
Springsteen, a Korean-American, says she also served on the IIFA Global Business Forum Planning Committee while planning Asia Fest, too.
“Considering the other activities, especially the Bollywood events on the same day, a little less number of audience this year, which was different from last year, but we never really felt it. It certainly didn’t dampen our spirit. The fact that they preferred to come to our event is the quality audience we wanted. We accomplished our goal and I am really happy the way everything turned out,” Springsteen said.
Joey Omila of the Philippine Cultural Foundation emceed the program that began with uplifting, beautiful music from the Musikong Kawayan Bamboo Ensemble Philippine Choral group. Omila also entertained the audience with teaching everyone how to say “hello” in different Asian countries. Performances included the dances of Korea, China, Vietnam, Mongolia, Laos and Taiwan.
The Master Academy students demonstrated their Tae Kwon Do skills in the grassy area in front of the Brighthouse Networks stage. Later in the program, the Mt. Song Martial Arts Academy performed Shaolin Kungfu.
Eight contestants competed in the Miss Asia Fest Pageant emceed by Minami Eberhard. Di Li, Miss China, won the title this year. Li is an engineering student at the University of South Florida.