Downtown Riverside kicked off its second annual Asian-Pacific Lunar Festival this past weekend on Saturday, Jan. 28. Beginning at 10 a.m., roads were blocked off from Orange to Market Street, making way for an assortment of colorful booths, decorations and performance stages. In the morning, dragon dancers and fan dancers paraded down the streets while the Riverside King High School marching band provided music. In the afternoon, participants and visitors were free to roam around and experience new sights, tastes and sounds.
Jan. 23 of 2012 marked the official lunar new year of the dragon according to the cultural beliefs of the Chinese. The festivities of the New Year are typically executed in mainly Chinese populations; however, the customs and traditions are embedded in many other Asian and Pacific Islander countries.
The first objects to catch peoples’ attention were the round red lanterns that hung from long, outstretched wires dangling 30 feet above. To the left and right were booths featuring everything from calligraphy lessons to cell phone companies. Unfortunately, most of the booths had little or nothing to do with Asian culture, but instead, hosted banks, small businesses and recycling companies that were passing out pamphlets and trying to attain email addresses.
“It’s only the second one ever,” said Christine Avila, a fourth year foreign language student at UC Riverside. “They need to add more stuff, but it’s hard because there just isn’t enough advertisement for the Lunar Fest. Hopefully it will just keep getting better.” Her friend, third year art history student Samantha Hart agreed: “Nobody at UCR knows enough about the events downtown. If only they knew. There is so much fun stuff that happens here!”
Both students were relaxing by the food stands, which were releasing tempting scents of smoky teriyaki, fried noodles and funnel cake. A long line of curious and eager customers formed in front of the Takoyaki booth, which was serving delicious and authentic freshly grilled Japanese street snacks. Avila and Hart were taking a break from their shift at the Japanese Sendai booth, which was there to raise money for the city that was hit hardest by the 2011 tsunami; Sendai is also Riverside’s sister city. In conjunction with educating the community about the happenings of the Far East corner of the world, the Lunar Fest downtown also embraces and welcomes the ever-changing demographics of the Riverside county.
Although coordinators of the Lunar Fest had good intentions of showcasing the traditions of many Asian countries, many attendees felt there is room for improvement. Kahei Leung, a third year psychology major who is also Chinese, said, “it didn’t feel completely culturally correct.” In reference to some of the parade dancers, she said, “they were just put in Chinese-looking costumes and danced to Chinese music but many of the moves, styles and costumes were off.”
Another puzzling sight was the abundant amount of young people walking around dressed in anime costumes, some scantily clad in miniskirts, fishnet stockings and midriff bearing corset tops. Costumes such as these had nothing to do with the Lunar New Year, which is really centered on family, luck, good fortune and tradition. Also, a recurring comment heard around the festival was that last year’s was much better. “A lot of countries are under represented this year in comparison to last year,” said Hart. The entire festival could be fully experienced in about an hour or less, unless people chose watch performances on one of the four stages or purchase food from the carnival-like stands.
The festival came to a close at around 6 p.m. when an array of loud and crackling fireworks were released above the Chinese Pavilion in front of the Riverside Main Library and into the sky. For the duration of about five minutes, all pedestrians, volunteers and workers stood still, faces turned toward the sizzling, colorful, flashing lights. A group of music performers stopped what they were doing in order to honor the old Chinese tradition. It was at that moment when regardless of culture, community or background, everyone experienced the joy of entering together into the new year of the dragon.