Cheers rang out on Saturday morning as costumed lion dancers emerged through a blast of fireworks and gray smoke for the opening of the 2019 Asian Festival.
Members of the San Antonio Lion Dance Association weaved through crowds at the University of Texas at San Antonio Institute of Texan Cultures, moving to the beat of drums to drive evil spirits from the festival grounds and from the new year. The costumed dancers reared their large, colorful furry heads around the buildings’ exterior patio, lined with vendors and information booths. Guests, bundled up for the 35 degree, rainy weather, followed the procession to the grounds of the Back 40.
Beneath a covered stage, host Eileen Teves, introduced Judge Peter Sakai of the 225th District Court, who is recognized for his work with the children’s court and the child welfare system. He said the festival recognizes the power and richness of San Antonio’s Asian community.
“Although we may be small in number, we are very much a part of this community,” Sakai said, “and we make this a better place with all the rich diversity.”
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., hundreds of visitors celebrated the traditions and Asian cultures of the Lone Star state in honor of the Lunar New Year and 2019 Year of the Boar. This was the 32nd year that the ITC has hosted the one-day event. It featured 21 food vendors, 33 craft sellers and 27 performing groups.
ITC spokesman James Benavides said the event began as a local family reunion celebration at the San Antonio Museum of Art and expanded to a day of activity that celebrates the Chinese New Year.
“In a very short time it outgrew that original venue,” Benavides said. “We’re not just talking about the Chinese and Lunar New Year, we talk about the whole continent. Along with goods, you’re also transporting culture and ideas, along trade routes like the old silk road.”
He said in addition to covering the entirety of that continent, the festival showcases the cultures of the South China Sea from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and the Pacific with Philippines and Hawaii. In recent years there has been an expansion into Japanese and Korean pop culture and music with animé and J-Pop and K-Pop performances at the event.
Guests flowed inside the institute, formerly HemisFair’s Texas Pavilion, for performances and information. Downstairs, several people played mahjong alongside images of the San Antonio 1860s-1990s exhibit.
Joan Zhao stood before tables laden with clothes, trinkets and toys, inviting guests to the Festival of Spring, featuring artists from China at Our Lady of the Lake University’s Thiry Auditorium on Feb. 15. Zhao, president of the San Antonio Chinese Alliance, said the group has been a part of the festival for almost 20 years.
“It’s so we can be more harmonious,” she said of the gathering. “We are a big family now and we need to know each other so we can all contribute whatever we have to San Antonio.”
Outside, the aroma of roasted delicacies drifted in the air, as Joey Rosales, 20, ate a serving of huli huli chicken from a to-go box with a pair of chopsticks. Across from the Aloha Kitchen booth, his brother, Nathan, 18, had finished his portion. The brothers said they wanted to experience different cultures and sample the variety of Asian dishes.
Beyond the martial arts demonstration area, there was a gallery of bonsai trees and Ikebana floral arrangements for those seeking artistic appeal. Not far from the Alamodome, people learned the Korean alphabet, the beliefs of Sikhism and kamishibai, the traditional Japanese form of storytelling.
Saul Escalona, 27, and Melody Donel, 31, stopped by the Sikh Dharamsal, where volunteers wrapped turbans. The pair learned that the headdress is worn by men and women. Saranjeet “Sammy” Singh, 29, said that every Sikh man has the same last name that means lion and stands for equality. He said Sikh women use the same last name of “Kaur,” which means princess.
“We want people to know that when you see a turban, it is a symbol of faith, just like police wearing a uniform,” he said. “We wear a turban so that you can go ask for help, and a Sikh will not refuse you help.”
Sixth grader Oren Lowak visited the festival for two reasons: fun and extra credit for his social studies class. The 11-year-old said his favorite part was watching the lion dancers’ performance.
“It’s educational,” his father, David Lowak, 46, said, “and well rounded for him.”