Islanders honor heritage with new year celebration

By:  Arlene Kiyomi Dennistoun
Source: Northwest Asian Weekly

On Saturday, Feb. 13, at the Tacoma Dome exhibition hall, drums thundered. Dancers glided and swayed with power, pride, ease and grace. And the aroma of food wafted enticingly through the air, mingling with the massive sea of people. The beaming faces of performers and folks manning booths, representing about 16 different countries, shinned with pride and delight.

About 10,000 people came to see hundreds of dancers, performers, martial artists, and displays at the 18th Annual New Year Celebration, presented by the Asia Pacific Cultural Center (APCC).

“Ultra fun!” said Alexander Mario, a young man originally from Java, referring to aajojo dance, representing Papua, Indonesia. The young dancers representing Papua may not have had the vivid, flashy, and ornate costumes like some of the other dancers, but they danced with obvious joy, strength, and confidence. The dancers, including Gabriella Widjaja, Diefa Shabirah, and Dennis Mulyadi, wore faces painted white with intricate patterns and decorated their bodies with white, red, and black swirls, stripes, circles, and other symbols.

“Knowing there are tons of different dances makes me really proud to be a part of representing an incredible side of Indonesia,” said Shabirah. “We are doing this for Indonesia,” added Shabirah.

There were a dizzying variety of dancers and performers representing China, Samoa, Korea, Taiwan, Tahiti, Guam, Cambodia, Laos, Japan, Tonga, and Fiji. Native dance costumes visually stunned with striking colors and splashes of brocade, beads and sashes.

Indonesia, the host nation of this year’s New Year celebration is a country of more than 17,000 islands, with about half of its approximately 255 million people residing in Java. The most commonly known islands aside from Java are Sumatra and Bali. There are many different ethnic groups, and according to the CIA World Fact Book, more than 700 languages are spoken.

“I want my son to see the different cultures and enjoy the dancers, especially because he’s one-half Filipino,” said 4-year old Paolo’s dad. “That’s why we’re here today.” Paolo happily mugged for the camera with his painted on Spider-Man face.

Yunja, wearing a Seattle Seahawks sweatshirt, proudly displayed a pint sized Korean dress newly bought for her granddaughter, nearly asleep in her carriage, despite the din of music, conversation, and laughter. Yunja was babysitting her granddaughter while her daughter performed a Korean dance as part of the Morning Star Cultural Center.

The Asia Pacific Cultural Center’s Executive Director Faaluaina “Lua” Pritchard, and President and Founder Patsy Surh O’Connell appeared happy and relaxed amid the chaos of the celebration. Pritchard watched the performers, smiling, and swaying, while O’Connell was resplendent in a native Korean dress, frequently snapping photos with her tablet. Lori Matsukawa, KING 5 News anchor, was on hand to help emcee the New Year celebration.

Sen. Patty Murray relayed her support via a recorded video message to the crowd, voicing her continuing support for the Asian American community. Sen. Maria Cantwell addressed the crowd, and readers of the Northwest Asian Weekly. “My office is run by two Asian Americans!”

Cantwell  said she comes to events like this because “this is such an important part of our state and the celebration of Asian Americans — they are a key part of our state and the cultural diversity that’s represented here.” Cantwell glanced in all directions, at the performers, the audience, the vendors. “Bringing people together…you just can’t find this anywhere.”

“I think this is so unique today — 16 different countries, the performances, the speakers,” she added. “This is about bringing people in the community together so that as people come to Washington or the United States of America — they understand what the resources are and how to be integrated into the community.”

“We need to understand in the United States of America, the Asian American population is going to double in the next several decades so they are going to become an even more dominant part of our culture, and so I think understanding their unique contribution to our country and also the challenges they face within our country I think is really important,” she continued. “I think people need to understand that the Asian population is going to grow by leaps and bounds!”