Director of special events wants the festival to “build bridges” to help eliminate cultural ignorance.
By Jerico Magallanes
Clear skies welcomed visitors to the University of Texas at San Antonio Hemisfair Campus for the Asian Festival Saturday.
Dancers, chefs, artists and attendees donned traditional clothing from all walks of Asian culture.
Henna art decorated the wrists of attendees, fresh-cooked food teased the appetites of festivalgoers, and dancers moved to the music of their culture.
This annual celebration of Asian culture and the Lunar New Year was first hosted by the San Antonio Museum of Art in 1987 but quickly outgrew that venue, moving to the Institute of Texan Cultures in 2000.
When one thinks about San Antonio, Asian culture may not be the first thing to come to mind.
For members of the Asian population, the festival was a way to unite the isolated members of various ethnicities and nationalities.
“It was more about the community,” said Jo Ann Andera, director of special events for the Institute of Texan Cultures. “Not about ‘Oh, let’s do a festival.’ I think it was, ‘We need to do something where we can get all together and talk about who we are with each other.’”
This idea proved to be wonderful for the public to learn about the Asian community and their cultures, Andera said.
“So in a way, it was more of a celebratory gathering for the Asian community,” Andera said. “I think the Asian Festival gives people an opportunity to really learn a little bit more about these groups.”
With the institute focused on giving a voice to ethnic cultures, Andera said, “We all go to Chinese restaurants, we all go to Japanese restaurants, we all go to Thai, but who are these people? And what are they contributing to the greater community of San Antonio?”
“It’s really important that we as San Antonians appreciate the different cultures that live here, and I really think Asian Festival makes that possible in a very fun way,” Andera said.
Involvement with the Asian Festival doesn’t stop at the Institute of Texan Cultures.
Local organizations and groups such as San Japan, San Antonio’s largest Japanese Culture and Anime Convention, also make up the workforce behind the Asian Festival.
David Ramirez, community relations director for San Japan, shared their involvement with this year’s Asian Festival.
“We’re showing a couple of different family-friendly anime, we’re doing cell shading which is a form of animation, and also doing some Japanese video games and family video games.”
“I’m really impressed that they brought in so many different groups,” Ramirez said of the diverse participants. “Usually, they focus a lot on Eastern Asian or even Pacific Island groups. But they’re bringing in lots of people from the subcontinents, more people from Western Asia, and they have a lot of great setups. It’s just fantastic.”
The festival can’t run without the help of volunteers, such as Adrian Perez from IBC Bank, who first volunteered for the Asian Festival in 2014.
“It’s actually really fun,” Perez said. “You get to meet a whole bunch of people out here and look at the other culture, the Asian culture. So that’s something that brings me in here. That way we can see other cultures other than your culture itself.”
Attendees and volunteers alike seemed to love the food.
Multiple vendors offered a wide variety of options to chow on.
“I really like bulgogi and I’ve probably had three different vendors sell it to me,” Ramirez said of the Korean dish of marinated meat that is typically grilled and served with rice.
“I think our ability as a museum and the Institute of Texan Cultures to provide a venue where we do this for our community is really extraordinary,” Andera said.
“In the world we live in,” Andera said, “it’s important these days to really have a significant feeling of community, of respect and of knowledge. Because when you are ignorant of things, you are afraid of them. But if you get to really understand and learn about people, we build bridges.”
UTSA’S Institute of Texan Cultures will host its 45th Annual Texas Folklife Festival June 10-12 at the institute.
For information, call 210-458-2224 or visit the institute’s website at texancultures.com.