Lunar festival in Downtown Riverside ushers in the year of the snake

 

Wesley Ng/HIGHLANDER
Wesley Ng/HIGHLANDER

It was a cloudy day, but the string of red paper lanterns did not cease to guide visitors to Downtown’s Asian Pacific Lunar Festival on Saturday Jan. 26. Hosted by the city of Riverside and Asian Pacific Cultural Association, the day-long event boasted multi-cultural performances and activities such as dancing, martial arts and educational demonstrations. The local Riverside community came out in throes; young and old, families and students, the diversity of the community was evident for all to see.

Booths selling novelty items as well as tables promoting local community organizations lined the two-block-long festival on Mission Inn Ave. Within 20 steps in any direction, individuals could purchase a small Chinese tea set or buy a Musubi ball (a rice ball snack). The smell of teriyaki chicken pervaded the air. In the center of it all were the main events, like sumo wrestling and martial arts performances, which big crowds gathered around to see.

One section was dedicated to arts and crafts booths. Young children clamored for the colorful supplies, eager to recreate their own images of the festival.

It was there I met Jane Jimenez, a first time festival participant who was accompanying her daughter and granddaughter. In relation to her family, she said, “They love cultural events. It’s the year of the snake and we’re having a great time. I just wish I got here earlier. I liked seeing the martial arts display and all the colors.”

The dance performances held at the main stage near the end of the block were delightfully interactive. Dancers allowed some children in the audience to participate in the performance with them. The vibrantly colorful and traditional garb matched the upbeat and joyful music. Together they performed the “bamboo stick” dance with moves which resembled a game of double dutch.

Wesley Ng/HIGHLANDER
Wesley Ng/HIGHLANDER

However, one UCR student questioned the validity of the Lunar Festival and whether or not it was truly a “Chinese” New Year celebration. He was “disappointed” by the festival and told me, “It’s an Asian festival, but it’s not a Chinese festival. There is a lot of [Chinese] symbolism that’s just missing.”

It was not until the finale of the festival during UCR’s Taiko Drumming and Lion Dance performances that people could hear cooing and staggered “Oooh’s” from the crowd.

That’s right. UCR’s performers confidently stole the show and closed the night. People could hear the booming of the drums before they were seen. The UCR Taiko drum band performed with military precision. It was fun to watch, namely because Taiko drumming involves so much movement, to which the audience was captivated. Towards the end of the set, the UCR Lion Dance troupe performed. A perfect closer, they spun, leapt and shook the celebration into the night. As the lion shimmied away, the fireworks show started. It was halting at first, but it ultimately grew into a great finale.

While it’s true that the festival did have many different cultural influences and did not focus on celebrating a single culture, this event also showcased Riverside’s uniqueness and diversity. The city’s community is a smorgasbord of characters and the Lunar Festival it sponsors is no exception.

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