Asian celebration prepares for thousands

Oregon Asian communities to celebrate ancient traditions, new innovations

P.W. Braunberger // The Torch
A dancer in a Buddha costume poses with lion dancers at a rehearsal on Feb. 3. According to most versions of the legend, the Lion Dance Tradition began after villagers dressed like lions to scare away a monster who came to devour their crops.

From rarely performed Balinese dances to Kumoricon cosplay, the 33rd Annual Oregon Asian Celebration, scheduled for Sat. Feb.17 and Sun. Feb. 18 at the Lane Events Center, welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds.

“There’s something about the Asian Celebration that really brings people together,” Bonnie Simoa, head of LCC’s Dance Department, said. “I think it’s really essential for a healthy community.”

According to David Yuen Tam, Director of the Asian Celebration, it “is one of the largest all-volunteer cultural events between San Francisco and Seattle.” Tam estimates 13,000 people attended last year. Anticipating at least as many attendees at the coming celebration, organizers will deploy new credit and debit card readers to speed lines at the entrance.

Feb. 16 will usher in the Year of the Dog on the Chinese calendar. This inspired organizers to adopt the theme “Bark to the Future!” They want to focus on the educational values prevalent in many Asian societies and the contributions of Asian-Americans to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields.

“We want to educate people about what STEM is and how it incorporates into our daily lives,” Tam said. “It’s another avenue for us to share with the youth about, ‘Hey, it’s okay, it’s cool to be good at mathematics. It’s cool to be good at computer coding. It’s not just a nerdy thing anymore, or not just a guy thing anymore.’”

Other activities designed to appeal to children include a carnival room, a craft room, youth performances and a treasure hunt. Kids can get a map at the entrance, follow it to booths that teach them about diverse Asian cultures, collect stamps and take a completely stamped map to a booth run by the Asian American Foundation of Oregon to claim a treasure.

Tam notes that there is a lot to interest adults as well: a marketplace with “more than 60 vendors”; craft, cooking, dance and music demonstrations ranging from the Middle East to the Pacific Islands; and new photos added to Our Stories: Immigrants of America, an exhibit by photographer and digital artist Melissa “Mimi” Nolledo.

According to Simoa, her dance group, Tirta Tari, will be performing at the Asian celebration for the seventh consecutive year. This year, they will do three unique dances, one of which is rarely presented, even in Bali.

The Legong Keraton Playon, which Simoa has spent the last 20 years learning, emulates movements found in nature, like palm trees swaying in the wind.

“I don’t know if there’s anybody else in the States that’s dancing this particular dance,” Simoa said. “We’re probably the only ones.”

In 2015, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization singled out Balinese dance for special protection by placing it on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Simoa says her Balinese teachers have given her express permission to teach and share the dances.

“It’s a beautiful thing to think that we here in Eugene, at LCC, are contributing to preserving this beautiful form that’s seen internationally as an important and essential part of Balinese culture,” Simoa said.

Students can enter the Asian Celebration for free by showing their school ID cards at the door, along with a student admission ticket obtained without charge at any branch of Oregon Community Credit Union, no account required. Children twelve and younger also get free admission. For everyone else, tickets cost $6.00 for one day or $10.00 for both days.