What is the story behind the Dragon Festival?
Chinese legend is that approximately 2,400 years ago, Qu Yuan, a poet and loyal court advisor in the kingdom of Chu, drowned himself in the Mi Lo river in Hunan province when he could not reverse the corruption in the kingdom. Fishermen rushed to the spot and banged their oars and threw rice into the water to scare away and feed the fish so they would not eat Qu Yuan’s body.
To commemorate his death on the fifth day of the fifth month each year, the tradition of throwing rice in the water and boat races started.
However, since May is too cold for dragon boat races in Minnesota, the Dragon Festival takes place on the second weekend of July!
How long has the Dragon Festival been going on in the Twin Cities?
The Festival actually began in May 1996 as the Asian American Festival. The first Festival took place at a bank’s parking lot on University Avenue. However, when dragon boat races were added in 2003, the name was changed to Dragon Festival and the location was moved to Phalen Park.
What is the purpose for this Festival ?
The Dragon Festival is a nonprofit event managed by an all-volunteer Board. It is the only event of its kind in the Twin Cities. It was conceived as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May) as a fun opportunity for all the Asian groups to come together to celebrate our different ethnicities. Additionally, it helps promote cross-cultural understanding.
How would you describe the Dragon Festival?
The Dragon Festival is the largest pan-Asian cultural celebration in the Twin Cities. It is a family-oriented event but with something to entertain and interest every age group. The older crowd and the families with the young kids tend to favor the cultural performances. The young professionals gravitate toward the dragon boat races. The teens, the martial arts demonstrations, and everyone checks out the arts and crafts and food vendors! This year, there are a wide-range of vendors; from Chinese, Tibetan Thai crafts to silver jewelry to cosmetics1 So bring plenty of cash and get a head start on your Christmas shopping!
What event/activity tends to be a crowd favorite?
As mentioned in the previous question, different activities attract different audiences. The opening ceremony always draw lots of “Oohs” and “Ahs” because of the spectacular dragon dance performed by the Chinese American Association of Minnesota, who owns a most authentic and beautiful Chinese dragon. The dragon boats are a personal favorite. But, based on survey responses by Festival attendees, the cultural performances and the dragon boats are quite evenly split, followed by food, of course!
What is new at the 2008 Festival?
This year, there are many demonstrations including fruit-carving, henna art, bonsai and origami to name a few. On Saturday afternoon, curry demonstrations featuring local culinary professionals such as author of the recently published “660 Curries” cookbook, Raghavan Iyer; Supenn Harrrison of Sawatdee and Thom Phan of Azia. And for those interested in martial arts, a Shaolin group will be participating for the first time. This particular “branch” of Chinese martial arts is the basis of many movies, including “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” We also are extremely pleased with the cultural performances line-up which will include Birdie and Friends, a Filipino dance group and, for those at the Festival around noon Saturday, there will be a free hula performance and workshop! Please visit the website, www.dragonfestival.org for updated performance and activity schedules.
How does one participate in the dragon boat races?
Most boat teams are corporate and community organization sponsored. Each team has 20-24 members and, the Dragon Festival stipulates that at least eight paddlers are to be female!. If you do not belong to a community organization or corporate team, you can round up a group of friends and each chip in for the $900 registration fee. Its lots of fun! However, if you cannot get a group together fast enough for this year’s Festival, there are free canoe rides provided by Wilderness Inquiry.
What special tradition is carried out at the Festival?
The “Awakening the Dragon” ceremony at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 12, is a must-see. Visitors are greeted by the Twin Cities’ most authentic and beautiful dragon, which will perform a dragon dance. The ceremony also includes dotting the dragon’s eye to awaken it for the annual Festival, which is followed by a blessing by Sri Lankan monks and a Hawaiian dance performance.
How much is admission and parking?
There is no admission charge and all the entertainment is free. Festival-goers need only pay for the food, beverage and merchandise they buy. Since there is no parking at the park itself, the Festival has arranged for three off-site parking lots with free shuttle bus service to Phalen Park. Please visit the website to find out where you can park and catch a ride on the shuttle.
So how does the Festival pay for everything?
We are totally dependent on corporate sponsorships, the sale of Dragon Festival merchandise and contributions from community organizations. We hope we can keep it this way forever and therefore, the Festival’s board of directors are extremely grateful for the support from all our sponsors. Of course, we also want to say “Thank you” to all our volunteers whose help during the Festival are priceless!