Asian Pacific CultureFest celebrates diversity within AAPI diaspora

Dok Champa Lao dancers perform at the Asian Pacific CultureFest at District56 in Elk Grove on Sunday, May 19. (Photo by Hilario Mata)

By Chanelle Anne Muerong

The sound of flutes and two-string fiddles waft through the various booths lining the pavements and lawns across District56 as a group of 10 Hmong dancers clad in traditional white and red dresses, and adorned with intricate jewelry, perform for the crowd at the third-annual Asian Pacific CultureFest in Elk Grove on Sunday, May 19. 

Ntxhais Deev Siab, a Sacramento-based nonprofit Hmong dance group, was one of the many performers during the event. A returning group from last year’s CultureFest,  the group is known for showcasing different styles of Hmong dress and music  at competitions around the state. 

“It feels good to perform at events like this, not a lot of people know about Hmong dancing or even the culture,” said Melanie Yang, one of the dancers in the group. “It feels good because I feel like when people see it for the first time, they’re really astonished by it.”

The Ntxhais Deev Siab dance group at the Asian Pacific CultureFest at District56 in Elk Grove on Sunday, May 19. From left: Cassyanna Her, Lily Vang, Sheny Thao, Christine Xiong, Melanie Yang, Starly Vang, Liyah Moua, Nancy Thao, Alina Vue and Destini Yang. (Photo by Hilario Mata)

To celebrate Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month, the City of Elk Grove partnered with The Creative Space, a small business that serves as a gathering place for creatives to teach and share their passions with others and nonprofit Sacramento Asian Pacific Cultural Village to put on the free event intended to uplift the Asian American and Pacific Islander culture, heritage, and contributions throughout the Sacramento region with arts, crafts, food and community. 

“Our culture is a beautiful culture,” said Cassyanna Her, a Ntxhais Deev Siab dancer. “And the girls, I really like dancing with all of them. That’s what I like about dancing, you get to grow a bond with the people you don’t really get to see often.”

In addition to performances, the event showcased more than 150 vendors ranging from savory food stalls, to handmade goods and sweet treats. Attendees had no shortage of food options, as they were also able to patronize the various food trucks present, such as Filipino food truck Baboy Boys and Bussin’ Buns, as well as enjoy the traditional and contemporary stage performances and a pop-up visual art gallery.

Lisa Ngo-Koob, owner of Sweet Flour Vegan Bakery, holds two desserts on Sunday, May 19 at the Asian Pacific CultureFest at District56 in Elk Grove. (Photo by Hilario Mata)

Lisa Ngo-Koob, owner of Sweet Flour Bakery was one of the many food vendors at the event. Ngo-Koob, a vendor with The Creative Space, slowly converted her bakery into a 100% vegan bakery in 2020. 

“I was one of [The Creative Space’s] original vendors when they first started. They are two amazing sisters and they put on great events,” Ngo-Koob said. “They have a dedicated amount of vendors that are loyal to them.”

Ngo-Koob hopes to eventually bring Vietnamese flavors into her bakery. “With Vietnamese flavors, there’s not a lot of flavors to work with, but it is definitely something that I would like to work on in the future and incorporate into my business.”

Another vendor, Holly Guenther, said she wants to bring awareness to her Korean culture through Kimchi Kawaii, which has been in business for 16 years, offering different types of crafted goods and art including pins, plushies and stickers.

Through her creations, Guenther strives to educate her customers about her Korean culture. The lion pin series in particular is something that Guenther has been working on lately. “The Korean pin series that I have is relatively new,” she said. “As I was doing all these events, I noticed there was a lot of Japanese culture, Chinese culture as well. I wanted to represent my own Korean heritage.”

Musician Neil Nayyar performs at the Asian Pacific Culture Fest at District56 in Elk Grove. (Photo by Hilario Mata)

Each pin on display had small blurbs about which country they are from, and a fun fact about each lion. Different lion pins were made, including ones from Japan, Korea and Tibet, just to name a few.

Guenther said she felt like this festival was a great way to get her art out, and that it was nice to have different aspects of Asian culture all in one place. “Having big public events like this,” she said, “it draws people in and it exposes them to different cultures that they might not normally get.”

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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