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A Look At Growing Charlotte Dragon Boat And Asian Festival

Charlotte Asian Festival
Charlotte Asian Festival

Ramsey Creek Park in Cornelius will come to life on Saturday with distinctive sights, sounds and scents. The Charlotte Dragon Boat Race and Asian Festival will take place throughout the day. The event coincides with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Charlotte's first Asian Festival was held almost 20 years ago in Marshall Park. 

John Chen
Credit Sarafina Wright
John Chen, chairman, Charlotte Asian Festival & Dragon Boat Race.

In 2006, the festival was combined with the new Dragon Boat Festival and in 2016 the festival debuted a talent competition called the Asian music and dance fest. Saturday, the tradition does continues at Ramsey Creek Park. Festival chairman and chair of the Carolinas Asian American Chamber of Commerce John Chen joined WFAE’s Mark Rumsey to talk festival fun.

John Chen: The Asian community in Charlotte has been expanded significantly in the last 15 years or so. When I first came to visit Charlotte back in the '70s you could carry it with two hands the families in this area, but not today. It’s close to 80,000. Including many countries from Asia.

Mark Rumsey: All right. So that's grown a lot as this festival has grown alongside that increasing population. So let's talk about the Charlotte Asian Festival. It draws thousands of people each year now, right?

Chen: Yes, it it draws a good number of people. And the dragon boat team has grown from 2006 from 18 teams and now I believe Saturday we are at 53 teams.

Rumsey: For those who aren't very familiar with it. Just describe that for us.

Chen: Dragon boat race, or dragon boat event actually was over 2,300 years ago a Chinese tradition. And it was to commemorate a patriotic poet and a civil servant. And then it kind of just stay in China for all those years until 1988. It was relaunched at the world expo in Vancouver. Primarily by the Hong Kong Trade Association and it just took off. And today, it is one of the most popular flat water as opposed to whitewater, flat water sport in the world.

Rumsey: What other activities should people expect?

Chen: This basically as you mentioned earlier Mark, this is a combined land and water festival. We have a very, very well-prepared stage performance program and then we have the cultural workshop and this Saturday it becomes an Asian arts and craft workshop. So it’s open to all ages. And then you have vendors from the community or from the Asian community. They are really well mixed. Then the last thing is the sight, sound and scents and I would add taste.

Rumsey: You got to have food at a festival right?

Chen: We have seven or eight varieties of Asian food concessions and also the beverage. You got the Vietnamese bubble tea and that sort of stuff. So it is a very good program content wise -- a good event.

Rumsey: And Mr. Chen this festival each year - do you see it primarily as being for the Asian community and Pacific American communities? Or is there a broader purpose for the larger community?

Chen: Our focus is for the community because we believe that in the Asian Heritage Month of May sharing the heritage of the Asian culture is, you know, great but we share that with our friends and neighbors. And not only to showcase the culture, but in a way to thank them for what they've done for us also all those years. Many of us, as you know, came to this country as a student or whatever and then we decided to stay and grow our family and build our career. So all those are with the help of our friends and neighbors. I think this is a very good time to reciprocate and share the joy you know on this occasion.

Rumsey: That's John Chen, chairman of the Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce and of the Charlotte Asian Festival and Dragon Boat Race. Mr. Chen thanks a lot for your time.

Chen: You're most welcome.