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Asian District launches diverse festival to celebrate culture with food, music



Chris Vannarath, a chiropractor in the Asian District and president of the Asian District Association, said Saturday's inaugural Asian Festival will be a cultural celebration and an introduction to businesses in the area.

"Those of us who live and work down here know how great this community is, but we want everyone to know," Vannarath said. "One of the reasons we're having this festival is to break down barriers in Oklahoma City, to invite people down here to meet us and meet the business owners."

The Asian District Association will host the event from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. It is free and open to the public, and will feature food, music, dancing, vendor booths and activities for children.

Southbound Classen Boulevard will be blocked off between N.W. 25th and N.W. 26th streets. The main stage for the event will be located directly in front of Kamp's Market & Deli.

The Asian District, which runs from N.W. 23rd Street to N.W. 30th Street along Classen Boulevard (although the boundaries are fairly fluid with businesses extending east and west), is comprised of at least 10 distinct Asian populations, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Lao and Thai.

Vannarath said Asian businesses have been in the district since he was in elementary school at Harding Elementary almost 25 years ago.

"Now the community is growing," he said. "It used to be just along Classen, but now there are Asian businesses on N.W. 23rd, east and west of Classen, and new ones are starting as far north as N.W. 36th."

According to Vannarath, signage in the area usually displays English, Chinese and Vietnamese. The signage is one of the main stumbling blocks for the community's outreach to the larger Oklahoma City area, but the Asian languages don't mean that the businesses aren't eager for English-only customers.

Luke Starry, branch manager at First Commercial Bank and treasurer of the Asian District Association, said the signs can be daunting to potential customers.

"We're going to have the owners of the businesses in booths during the festival so people can meet them and talk to them," he said. "Many of the businesses are multi-generational, so the adult children, who are now second- or third-generation, are in the businesses and are fluent in English and comfortable with American culture."

In addition to the opportunity to meet business owners in the area, festivalgoers will also get to experience many different Asian foods, traditional Asian dances and contemporary Asian pop and rock music. The association has invited local rock bands " including a Latino group " to demonstrate the cultural diversity of the area. Nonprofit organizations will have booths set up to communicate to people the kinds of constructive, community-minded work being done in the district.

According to Jorge Hernandez, the event's organizer, many of the businesses in the Asian District are not Asian-owned, but the community has come together to put its best foot forward and celebrate the many cultures in the area.

Hernandez, who also organizes the annual Fiesta de las Americas, said the district is trying to get past the "Thai only" or "Vietnamese only" mind-set and focus on the similarities the cultures share. It is a model he has adopted for the Fiesta, bringing together Mexican, Colombian, Honduran and other Latino groups to celebrate Hispanic culture.

"We want people to feel comfortable in the Asian District," he said. "There are great businesses down here, and the owners would love for people to feel invited and welcome, in spite of the cultural differences. Some of the things we all have in common will be on display for the festival: music, food, family. We all appreciate those things."

Vannarath said the Asian District Association will be passing out fliers and purchasing ad space in local media with a full schedule of the day's events, including bands and scheduled set times.  "Greg Horton

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