Identity, Culture, And Good Tofu: What The Columbus Asian Festival Means To Me

Whenever I help my grandmother cook dinner, I am treated to stories of her youth in the Philippines. At the end of each anecdote, she reminds me, “Pinoy pride! Be proud of where you come from.” I have tried to live up to her words; but, it hasn’t always been easy.

It wasn’t easy when I failed a math quiz in fourth grade and my table partner said to me, “You’re Asian. Why aren’t you good at this stuff?”

It wasn’t easy when the few portrayals in the media I saw of people who looked like me were embarrassing caricatures of Asian people.

It wasn’t easy when kids on the playground would pull their eyes to the side to make them look slanted. Or when they would tell me to “Go back to China!”–a statement that is especially ironic considering that I am not Chinese and was, in fact, born in Utah.

Like many other Asian Americans, I’ve found myself wishing that I was more like everybody else I grew up with (read: white). For generations, Asian Americans have been pressured to assimilate and adopt the traits and traditions of “typical” Americans. After all, who wants to feel like an outsider in their own community?

My Filipino and Korean heritage was always something I thought I should distance myself from. But recently, my perspective has changed.

2018 was–to put it simply–a landmark year for Asian representation in American media. Movies like Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before proved that films with Asian leads can achieve outstanding success. Asian actors made waves in the entertainment industry with powerful statements about why #RepresentationMatters. BTS posters are hanging up in the rooms of middle schoolers everywhere.

These movements send a powerful message to Asian Americans everywhere that hey, being Asian can be pretty cool.

At the same time, it seemed like our society as a whole was trying to reconnect with our roots. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure that you’ve heard the talk about companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe that are providing us with new ways to discover–and to celebrate–where we come from.

After seeing my Asian American peers on social media #PraisinTheAsian and thousands of people rushing to the mailbox to ship off DNA samples, I began to think more deeply about my relationship with my heritage.

I decided that it was about time that I dive deeper into the identity I had tried to separate myself from for so long. I searched for events within the Columbus community that might help me connect with my estranged culture.

That was when I stumbled across the Asian Festival.

Attracting over 100,000 visitors every year, the Asian Festival two-day long showcase (this year from May 24th to May 25th) of Asian culture. With Asian food vendors, cultural exhibits, games, performances, and a bustling marketplace, there is no shortage of entertaining and educational activities for everyone. As someone looking to explore their background, I saw this as a perfect opportunity.

Keeping my purpose in mind, last weekend I attended the Asian Festival’s dragon boat races at Westbank Park. These races, which have grown to include more than 20 competing crews, serve as a preview of sorts for the main Asian Festival.

It was there that I found the cultural connection I was searching for.

I spent the day digging into tofu bowls and snow cones, exploring the Asian marketplace, and watching fleets of dragon boats cruise by (at much higher speeds than I had anticipated, I might add). I loved witnessing Columbus come together to celebrate the beauty of Asian culture.

But the most impactful parts of the festival for me were the performances. Professional artists and children alike staged traditional Asian dances and martial arts demonstrations. Seeing young performers not only embracing their culture in a way I never could at that age but also sharing its beauty with their community was unbelievably moving.

The entire experience was inspiring.

Multicultural festivals like Asian festival help people forge a deeper bond with their heritage and demonstrate that foreign cultures should be admired. They bring a community as diverse as Columbus together while celebrating what makes us unique in a way that anyone can enjoy.

By encouraging communities to connect with other cultures, these festivals share the message that you don’t have to blend in with the crowd. There is value in being different.

This weekend, I’ll be at the Asian festival living up to my grandmother’s mantra of being proud of where you come from. I am Filipino. I am Korean. I am a student, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. And I am proud that Columbus is giving my unique conglomeration of cultures an opportunity to shine.