GRAND RAPIDS, MI — After a hiatus last year, Grand Rapids’ Asian-Pacific Festival is set to return for its fifth year June 11-12, bringing with it classic events and new features.

The festival this week also comes at a time following multiple rallies in the nation calling for the end to hate crimes against Asian Americans. A #StopAsianHate rally was held in Grand Rapids four days after eight people were killed in three shootings in Atlanta on March 16.

Ace Marasigan, founder and CEO of the Grand Rapids Asian-Pacific Foundation, said this year’s festivities are much needed after a stressful year for Asian Americans who saw a increase in hate crimes and rallied against it.

“It’s just so important for us to have this,” he said. “It’s a symbol of that we are still strong, we’re still together, and we’re able to still celebrate.”

Last year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19, but organizers shifted their efforts toward giving back to the community through food donations and delivering PPE to those in need.

The annual festival brings West Michigan’s AAPI community together to provide food, performances and art to guests.

“In 2016, we founded this event just to highlight having a place for the Asian community to see themselves celebrated in Grand Rapids,” Marasigan said. “So what people are going to be expecting here is just a traditional celebration of traditions, and also modern contemporary celebrations of the Asian culture.”

The celebration this year broadens its partnerships to weave in key contributions from The Mitten Brewing Company and Founders Brewing Company. Each brewery is releasing an Asian-Pacific-inspired beer for purchase during the event.

The Mitten is releasing I Dream of Lychee – featuring lychee and cardamom flavors in a blonde ale body – and Founders is showcasing GRAPF Mango Passion – a wheat ale with mango and passionfruit.

“I’m not a beer connoisseur, so it’s hard for me to say which one’s the best,” Marasigan said. “I think it’s going to be a tough choice, and what we’re going to do at the festival is have our attendees tell us which was their favorite beer of the year. And moving forward, I think that’s something that we’ll be doing year after year.”

This year’s festivities will bring in new performances in addition to classic highlights like the lion dance. Marasigan said he was especially excited for a new Samoan Fa’ataupati (slap dance) performance, which he said few, if any, guests will have seen in person before.

“If people Google that, I think they would see Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson performing slap dance with some people, but to see that live in action — I think we always have seen performances. And so this is a great representation of the Pacific Islands to have this Samoan community participate in performing some of their dances.”

Also new is a performance by singer-songwriter AJ Rafael, who flaunts over a million subscribers on YouTube. Marasigan said it would be a bit of a change of pace, but Rafael is a strong representation of the Asian American community.

The culmination of music, food and events is a return that Marasigan is excited for.

“The message in the beginning has always been to celebrate the Asian Pacific communities for our children to see someone they could see themselves in out in public being celebrated in and they can just participate in being able to be themselves,” Marasigan said.

“That to me is bigger, right? Because it that means it signals not just acceptance, but the desire of West Michigan to embrace culture, diversity, and being able to come out and just say, ‘I want to learn more about your culture. I want to be a lot more well-versed, so that way we can coexist in such a beautiful community together.”

More information on the Asian-Pacific Festival, including a full schedule of events, can be found at festival’s website.

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