Evanston’s Umbrella Arts Festival celebrates the local Asian, South Asian and Pacific Islander American community

Editors’ note: In full disclosure, this story is written by contributor Sam Molitor, a high school student who is connected to the event organizers. For more information on the rest of May’s events, including Lantern Making and Launching, please visit Evanston ASPA here. But this story is about one of the biggest events of this month.

Credit: Lisa Cyee

Korean pungmul drumming, Indian dance Bharatanatyam and world music blending Indian bhangra and Afro-Caribbean sounds all came to Evanston – mixed with a chance to learn various arts, such as Chinese lantern making, folding of Japanese paper to make books or the colorful art of mandalas, spiritual symbols.

The Umbrella Arts Festival showcased many different cultures from Asia, South Asia and the Pacific Islands (ASPA) through art, music, dance and cuisine in the central Fountain Square -town of Evanston on Saturday, May 14.

The event was an opportunity for the community to come together to celebrate ASPA Heritage Month, the arrival of spring and the return to in-person gatherings.

Last year, the first Umbrella Arts Festival (then known as ASAPIA Heritage Month Arts Festival), took place on May 22, 2021.

This year, the festival has grown four times larger, tripled the number of performances, increased the number of vendors from four to 25, and included food and drink.

“From a few tables to 25 tents, not including performances and speakers, it’s grown in such a wonderful way,” said Taiwanese-born Evanston resident Elaine Darer. “The community showed up, the Asian community showed pride and what an amazing way to demonstrate ASPA Heritage Month in Evanston.”

Mayor Daniel Biss welcomed festival attendees and spoke about the importance of community events like this. “It was a wonderful event and a tremendous opportunity to highlight the contributions of the Asian American, South Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in Evanston, as well as to recommit ourselves to eradicating hate and bigotry wherever we see it,” he said.

One of the main objectives of the Umbrella Arts Festival is to promote businesses, restaurants, artists and local organizations belonging to the ASPA. Vendors lining the streets of the festival offered handmade artwork created by local ASPA artists and Evanston restaurants offering Indian, Thai, Cambodian and Filipino dishes.

People were able to take part in activities: art making with Angela Lyonsmith and a host of Kids Create Change volunteers gave visitors the opportunity to create Chinese-inspired lanterns.

Artist Book House offered a bookmaking business influenced by traditional Japanese paper folding techniques led by Jamie Thome and Filipino artist Regin Igloria.

Festival-goers were seen coloring mandalas on the sidewalk, filling the streets with beautiful symbols and words that invoked community and diversity.

Bollywood Groove’s Ajanta Chakraborty led the crowd in the Bollywood dance moves, which had everyone pumping for the Funkadesi concert, which closed the festival in festive style.

Credit: Lisa Cyee

Guest speakers also included State Representative and Asian American Caucus member Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, Judge Sanjay Tailor and District 65 Board Member Donna Wang Su, who expressed support for the ASPA community. and emphasized the importance of the history of the recently adopted Asian American community. Law.

The TEAACH Act made Illinois the first state in the United States to mandate the teaching of Asian American history in K-12 public schools. According to Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago, the TEAACH Act “ensures that Asian American history is taught in our schools, lays the foundation for cross-cultural education for all Illinois students, and advances racial equity.”

Daniel Aquino, owner of Coffee Lab, Nayon and Prairie Ave Gallery with his partner Jay Kim, was also a performer dancing the traditional Filipino bamboo stick dance Tinikling.

Aquino, a Filipino artist, expressed his joy at being part of something that makes ASPA people feel safe to express who they are and where they come from.

Organizations that support ASPA communities such as the HANA Center and the Pacific and Southeast Asian Women’s Association were represented and also offered musical and artistic activities to the participants.

The City Clerk’s office also had a booth encouraging attendees to register to vote as a reminder that our votes make a difference when it comes to bringing about positive change for the ASPA community.

ASPA umbrella

The new name invokes a visual reminder that the ASPA community is not a monolith, but a community that includes many different cultures and ethnicities from over 40 different countries that fall under the ASPA umbrella.

Darer was the driving force behind Evanston ASPA’s ‘Snack Shack’ which was a crowd favorite offering snacks and drinks from ASPA countries around the world while raising funds to support activities and events of Evanston ASPA throughout the year.

“Loved the festival snack stand and had a great time seeing some of my favorite snacks and tasting others… my favorites were definitely the Lychee Jellies and Pocky Sticks,” said ETHS junior Keria Tu, who identifies as Chinese, Welsh and German. . she said she thinks “it’s important to have a place where people from the community can celebrate their shared identities”.

Melissa Raman Molitor, founder of Evanston ASPA and organizer of the Umbrella Arts Festival, said planning for this year’s event began shortly after the last one ended. The response to the 2021 festival has been so enthusiastic that it has inspired a bigger and more involved event this year. The time and energy put into this event paid off on May 14 when more than 1,000 visitors to Fountain Square revel in the celebration of Indian, Filipino, Chinese, Cambodian, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Taiwanese culture. .

“This event is not just about increasing the visibility and representation of our local ASPA community, it is about creating a space to belong for our ASPA residents and engaging the community as a whole in experiences that disrupt stereotypes and racist narratives that harm the ASPA community,” explained Raman Molitor.

This is demonstrated in Tu’s admission that while living in Evanston she heard “…insensitive remarks that reinforce negative stereotypes around Asians, whether it’s all Asians look alike or Chinese people eat dogs , which is disappointing to see in a community that prides itself on being so progressive. You think these stereotypes stem from a lack of representation and feel that events like the Umbrella Arts Festival “actively challenge these stereotypes negative”.

Although the Umbrella Arts Festival was a one-day event, the ASPA of Evanston has created a calendar of events for community members to find ways to participate in ASPA Heritage Month.

One of these events includes a Lantern Floating Ceremony which will take place at Arrington Lagoon at dusk on May 31st. Organized by Kids Create Change, the ceremony is inspired by the lantern festivals and traditions found in many ASPA cultures around the world and is an opportunity for the community to come together to honor and commemorate the losses and the challenges caused by the pandemic that many have had to endure in isolation over the past two years.

The lantern is a symbol of light and hope not only for the ASPA community but for all local residents as we move forward in the quest for a more empathetic, inclusive, equitable and just community.

This event was sponsored by Evanston ASPA, City of Evanston, Asian American Caucus, Illinois Arts Council, Kitchen Table Stories Project, Evanston Arts Council, Main Dempster Mile, Downtown Evanston, Kids Create Change, Coffee Lab Evanston, Nayon, Prairie Ave. Gallery, Evanston Made, Link Physical Therapy, Commissioner Josina Morita, Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club, Evanston Community Foundation and George and Katrina de los Reyes GK Chicago Team – Berkshire Hathaway Chicago.