Upon entry of the 34th annual Asian Celebration on Feb. 16 and 17, folks were struck by the potent scent of Asian cuisine. The stages throughout the Lane Events Center showcased an array of cultural presentations, including Chinese lion dancing, Japanese taiko drumming and Hawaiian ukulele performances. Children and adults explored the site, eating a variety of food and learning about Asian cultures.

Following a Chinese New Year event in the Eugene Hilton hosted by a local Chinese restaurant owner 35 years ago, a group of Asian-Americans decided to form a community-wide event to celebrate various Asian cultural activities.

Nemo Debevoise, a political science student at Lane Community College, celebrates her ramen-eating contest victory at the Oregon Asian Celebration on Feb. 17. (Trent Toyama // The Torch)

“Each ethnic group has its own celebration. Here in Oregon, why not do something with everybody?” Ken Nagao, who has worked with the Asian Celebration since its inception, said.

The celebration has changed significantly since its first year.

“When it first started it was only a four-hour event,” Nagao said.

Now, 34 years later, the event lasts a total of 17 hours over the course of two days. Nagoa estimates that 30,000 people attended the event.

Among the highlights of the weekend was a performance by Portland Taiko, one of the largest traditional Japanese percussion collectives in the Pacific Northwest. Meredith Wood, a University of Oregon alumni who performs with the group, first discovered taiko when her mother signed her up for youth classes.

Members of Portland Taiko perform at the Oregon Asian Celebration on Feb. 17.

“I saw [taiko] as a way to get in touch with my Japanese-American heritage,” Wood said. “I also wanted to break the stereotype of the quiet Asian female.”

The majority of the proceeds paid for the event center, and the leftover profit are to be circulated back into the community.

“We want to be sure that all the community groups that help us with the event share in the profits,” Nagao said.

Over 100 vendors were in attendance, and every booth had something different and special to share with the local community. Some were very educational, while others were strictly fun.

One booth, known as Our Immigrant Stories, showcased different immigrant experiences of hardship and encouragement as they journeyed into the States. This booth is not just for the Asian Celebration, however; it is a project that has been showcased at various events and locations.

A patron pauses to read one of the many photo essays by Melissa “Mimi” Nolledo, a Eugene-based artist. Nolledo, founder of Our Immigrant Voices, began work on the project after the 2016 elections to put a face on America’s immigration debate. (Trent Toyama // The Torch)

“I started the project right after the November 2016 elections,” Melissa Nolledo, founder of Our Immigrant Stories, said. “I felt that I needed to give a voice to those of us who are immigrants and have our stories told so that folks know that we’re all connected.”  

Nolledo and her husband have been helping immigrants share their stories for the last couple of years. They hope the movement gets national recognition as they continue to spread awareness of the hardship and different perspectives immigrants have to offer.

Members of the Dragon Puppet Theatre perform using a traditionally handmade dragon puppet to portray a Northwest Native American fable about a raven. The Dragon Puppet Theatre is under the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art’s educational branch of resources, serving both K-12 classrooms and community groups. (Trent Toyama // The Torch)

There were other activities that were geared toward dance and performance.

The main stage showcased a Chinese Lion Dance, which is often performed at the start of a new year in hopes of bringing 365 days of good luck and fortune.

A crowd of children watches dancers pass in a traditional Chinese lion costume at the Lane Events Center on Feb. 18. Over 30,000 people attended the annual Oregon Asian Celebration, which honors the culture and contributions of Asian peoples. (Trent Toyama // The Torch)

As the lion on stage danced to the beat of the drums, the audience grinned and moved to the rhythm. The lion made its way into the crowd, where it was surrounded by children wanting to see it up-close and feed it money.

Shirley McNaught watches the Chinese lion dance during the Oregon Asian Celebration at the Lane Events Center. The lion dance, a part of traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, supposedly brings luck to anyone who places money in the lion’s mouth. (Trent Toyama // The Torch)

With the many booths the Asian Celebration had, there was a little something for every person who attended.

“It’s really important, especially as a small community, to come together and have the Asian Celebration. It’s cool,” Chinese Lion Dancer Cody Ngo said.

Although this year’s Asian celebration came to an end, the Eugene/Springfield Asian Council will plan for its next annual celebration. More information about upcoming events and next year’s plans will be posted on the Asian Celebration webpage.