By Connor Dziawura
The United States of America is often called a melting pot of cultures.
Keeping true to that idea, but in a different way, the Arizona Asian Festival will once again bring an assortment of cultures to Scottsdale, where Arizonans can experience the customs and foods of a variety of cultures.
Now in its 24th year, the two-day event—presented by the Arizona Asian American Association—will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, November 16, and Sunday, November 17, at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, 3939 N. 75th Street. An opening ceremony will take place at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission and parking will be free.
Nineteen cultures will participate over the weekend, representing areas like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Pacific Islands, Pakistan, Palestine, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and more. And there will be a host of food vendors, which as of print time will serve Burmese, Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Lao and Persian cuisine.
Much of the festival’s entertainment will be based around two stages: the World Stage and the Cultural Stage.
“The World Stage is basically our main stage, and that’s the one near the water fountain,” festival spokeswoman Mai Le explains. “That’s where we host the opening ceremony, the ending ceremony, and the highlight of the program is the International Culture Fashion Show.”
She adds, “The Culture Stage is actually near the Avenue of Cultures and where the food court is—it’s a smaller one—and every year we select one culture to be the highlight culture.”
Two years ago the festival’s producers put the spotlight on Vietnam. Last year they directed focus to Thailand. This year the majority of the entertainment will evoke Persian culture. But the performances are “dynamic,” Le adds, with other cultures still represented, and the majority involving dance, singing or martial arts.
A highlight of the festival, however, according to Le, is its International Culture Fashion Show, which will showcase more than 150 models from various cultures at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s considered a highlight, because everybody loves to go watch the fashion show to see the beautiful and colorful outfits and learn about the cultures from each region, from each area,” Le explains.
Attire will be “traditional,” she says.
“You will see the colorful and the unique and the custom and the traditional garments that they designed for each culture, and you also will see some similarities from culture to culture,” she explains. “For example, between Vietnamese outfits and Chinese, there are some similarities … But there are also some uniqueness and differences in each of the cultures.”
Elsewhere, a Chinese tea garden will offer demonstrations of the “formal” ceremonies and traditions that go hand in hand with tea drinking, as well as provide information about and access to the teas, Le says.
“It’s a way to learn about the culture, how before you drink the tea you have to show the respect to the earth and respect to nature,” Le says.
In between activities and all throughout the weekend, however, attendees can roam the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall. There will be plenty of artisans comprising a marketplace, as well as booths for civic engagement, health screenings and veterans.
But especially important at the Arizona Asian Festival will be what is called the Avenue of Cultures, featuring informative booths from the various cultures. Each year, Le says, the festival picks a different word as a theme and translates it to each culture’s language. This year’s theme is “enchantment.”
Festivalgoers—children in particular—can pick up a passport at the information booth, visit and learn from each booth, and receive prizes, Le says. The idea, she adds, is “to give the children the opportunity to interact with other cultures, to learn about other cultures.”
But while the event as a whole is appropriate for the whole family, kids will also have a Children’s Wonderland. In the lead-up to the festival every year, the Arizona Asian American Association runs its Kids Art Expo, a contest where children submit artwork to represent various cultures. It is this youngster-friendly “wonderland” where the art will be displayed, Le says. There will even be activities like origami.
Still weeks out from the event, however, its organizers expect it to be bigger than any of the 23 previous years. With more than 15,000 attendees last year, the Arizona Asian American Association has set a goal of more than 25,000 visitors for this year.
“The event is growing bigger and bigger,” Le says. “We have more participants each year, from the performances, from the culture participants and then the culinary booths and activities.”
But Le emphasizes that the Arizona Asian Festival attracts more than just those familiar with the customs of its various cultures. In fact, it attracts general audiences from a host of different races and backgrounds.
“They also participate because there’s something there to learn from other cultures, especially Asian culture,” she says.
Arizona Asian Festival, Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, 3939 N. 75th Street, aaaa-az.org, free.