Asian American Day Festival returns to Boston Common

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Photo: Chloe Els

Attendees gather to watch performers / Photo: Chloe Els

By Maeve Lawler and Chloe Els

The Boston Common buzzed with vendors and visitors attending the 12th Asian American Day Festival on Saturday afternoon. After a two-year pause due to COVID-19, the annual festival returned in celebration of Mid-Autumn.

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, is a traditional Chinese harvest celebration held during the 15th day of the eighth month of the Lunar Calendar. Similar holidays are celebrated in Japan (Tsukimi), Vietnam (Tết Trung Thu), South Korea (Chuseok), and other countries in East and Southeast Asia. Ceremonies are held to give thanks to the moon in autumn for the successful harvest season and serve as a time for family gatherings. Mooncakes—pastries often filled with sweet bean or lotus seed paste—are traditionally eaten.  

The Asian American Day Festival was initiated by the Asian American Association of Boston (AAAB) in 2011. The first festival was held on July 26, 2011, at the China Pearl restaurant in Quincy, Massachusetts. Asian American Day made its way to Boston Common in 2016 and is now annually celebrated on the second Saturday of September. 

“Today, [Asian American] Day has become a celebration of Asian American cultures and traditions and serves as a great platform for exchanging information between Asian American and regional ethnic groups,” according to AAAB’s website

At this year’s festival, vendors offered a variety of foods and goods, including duck wings, Thai tea, handmade calligraphy sets, and qipao dresses. Live music and dance performances attracted many visitors to the stage at the center of the festivities. Performances included taekwondo and ballet by the Mu Han School, “The Phantom of the Opera” by the Boston Eastern Heritage Chorus, and Dolma, a Chinese-Tibetan dance.

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Klysler Yen, the organizing committee news spokesman of the AAAB, believes the heart of the festival lies within these live performances. For Yen, the festival is about understanding and friendship among many groups. 

“[Performers] use the stage to come together,” he said. “[The festival is] for Asian [people] but also for Americans, for them to come together and feel together.” 

Ting Fang, the executive director of New Legacy Cultural Center—a culture and education organization in Lexington, MA—managed its booth at the festival. Fang talked about the joy of returning to the festival after the two-year hiatus. 

“It’s so exciting to be back in-person,” she said. “I like seeing how happy the festival makes the kids who are performing. For them, it’s like a big playdate… It’s a good way of bringing the community together.”

The festival also offers opportunities for attendees to take part in many aspects of Asian culture. John Kerpan, an education coordinator for the Massachusetts Go Association, discussed his passion for Go—“Weiqi” in Chinese—a 3,000-year-old strategy game that was created in China but quickly gained popularity in Japan and Korea and is now played internationally.

“[Go] is about critical thinking, but it’s also about the love of the game,” Kerpan said. “Very little has changed about it in the past 3,000 years.” At his booth, he offered free lessons in Go and encouraged people to sit down at one of the available game boards to play a round. Like the booths that allowed people to mold bread into mooncake designs for free, the aim of this booth was to make an aspect of Asian culture more accessible and interact with attendees.

Antony Huang, running the Bodhi Meditation booth, eagerly handed out flyers advertising weekly meditation sessions and workshops. Huang particularly advertised his meditation classes to students. 

“Meditate in the morning to clear your mind,” he said of the meditation style rooted in Buddhism. “It’s good for stressed students. You won’t stress about the little things anymore.” 

Flashes of colorful, silk qipao dresses pinned to mannequins and folded across tables attracted attendees. Miranda Tse’s booth represented the Shing Hong Trading Company, a clothing business that has attended the festival annually since 2015. Standing behind an array of red and pink qipao dresses, Tse discussed what selling clothes at the festival meant to her.

“I just like to do something for everyone,” Tse said. “I’m really happy to see all the Asian people together.”

Tse also talked about how the festival and its vendors provide an opportunity to bring Asian communities together. 

“This is what we want—to do something for the community,” she said. “We want to have a voice that Asian people are here in Boston.”