by Carol Lim
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The Tampa Bay area celebrated its 30th anniversary at Asia Fest recently. In 1979, it was only a week-long celebration to honor Asian and Pacific American contributions to America. After Congress passed a law in 1990, the entire month of May is designated as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month every year.
“I hereby proclaim April 27, 2013…From whatever country you’re from, this day is for you,” announced Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, holding up the proclamation plaque. Dr. Kimi Springsteen, the festival’s founder and chairwoman of the Asian American Coalition of Florida, also welcomed visitors to the community celebration.
Tampa Police estimated 8 thousand people came downtown to Cotanchobee Park in the Channelside District for Asia Fest and the Tampa Bay International Dragon Boat Races. With this year’s festival just 12 days after the Boston Marathon bombings, Asia Fest organizers and sponsors planned to make this event more safe.
“After 911, we’re always on heightened alert. That was reinforced with the tragic events in Boston. We take precautions. The public doesn’t always know about it, but we really make sure these events are safe, ” said Mayor Buckhorn.
“I think with the presence of Tampa Police and security here, we trust them. You can see everyone is having a good time. This is a family event and everyone is safe together,” said Sokha Im, Asia Fest’s Executive Director.
While Hillsborough County Sheriff Office boats patrolled Seddon Channel and Harbour Island, undercover and uniformed police officers strolled through the crowd, who gathered to see the colorful cultural performances on stage and taste the different Asian food from local restaurant vendors. 16 Asian countries were represented with Nepal and Indonesia joining the festival this year. Miss Taiwan was crowned Miss Asia Fest 2013.
Neetu Karki-Pant and Samik Poudel Chistwan were first-time visitors. They came dressed in exquisite long dresses from their homeland of Nepal. Others wore colorful costumes and outfits of Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Japan, China and other Asian countries.
“We have a lot more performers and participants who are outstanding, vendors who have come back and new vendors who have signed up with us. So, we’re really excited,” said Im.
Tito Joey Omila, President of the Filipino-American Association of Tampa Bay, emceed the entertainment –everything from a Three Drum Dance, Shaolin King Fu to the Tae Kwon Do “Gangman Style” finale.