Annual festival offers Americans taste of Korean culture
Annual festival offers Americans taste of Korean culture
FAIRFAX, Virginia, June 19 (Yonhap) – A subtle wave of emotion filled a concert hall near Washington over the weekend as South Korean jazz singer Woong San sang the traditional Korean folk song “Arirang” to a melancholy yet lovely tune played by a band comprised of musicians from both countries.
Encouraged by the singer, many in the audience who were present at the Saturday night event sang along, with their eyes glued to the dimly lit stage in the concert hall at George Mason University, as American pianist John Beasley and guitarist Adam Rogers produced powerful sounds together with Korean cellist Hwang Ho-gyu and drummer Lee Sang-min.
It was one of the highlights of an annual cultural event, titled the Asian & Pacific Island American Festival, aimed at promoting Korean culture in the United States. The Maryland-based Korean American Cultural Art Foundation has organized the event for the past decade with sponsorship from the Korean Cultural Center.
Rousing applauses marked the end of each song that Woong San sang.
“It was amazing. She was really amazing. I love the different language she sang in. She really made it personal to everybody. So it was amazing. She’s awesome,” Debra Caroll, one of hundreds in the audience, said of “Arirang” as she left the concert hall with her granddaughter during an intermission.
Asked if she sang along, she said, while laughing, “Yes, definitely we did. Not very well, but we did sing.”
Tammy Lee, head of the foundation that organized the festival, said that the annual concert is the only cultural event of its kind that is held every year in the Washington metropolitan area, home to some 200,000 Koreans.
“For the past 10 years, we’ve focused on promoting the beauty of Korean traditions,” she said ahead of the concert. “We’ve put together this year’s event with a focus on jazz and B-boy performances so that younger Americans can learn about Korean culture.”
She said the Korean Cultural Center in Washington has been a big supporter of the festival.
A taekwondo demonstration team from South Korea’s Kyungmin University opened the second part of the concert, with dozens of athletes breaking a number of wooden boards with punches and flying kicks, many of them involving somersaults.
Then the South Korean B-boy crew Gamblerz took the stage, with award-winning dancers making acrobatic moves, such as windmills, swipes and head spins. Gamblerz is one of the best B-boy crews in the world, winning first place at the annual international B-boying competition “Battle of the Year” in 2004 and 2009.
“This event really helps celebrate Korean-American culture and celebrate all sorts of cultural events, such as food, dance, drama and visual arts,” said Vicki Marckel, a fine artist and a board member of Charles County Arts Alliance in Maryland.
“I think it gives a chance for everybody to kind of come together and experience things. Maybe they didn’t get a chance before to celebrate the amazing 5,000 years of culture that we can benefit from one another,” she said of Korean culture.
Ahead of the concert, organizers also put together a performance of making a giant “bibimbap,” a bowl of rice topped with various vegetables, beef, egg and anything one would like mixed with red-pepper paste. It is one of the best-known Korean dishes.
Dignitaries attending the event, including Maryland first lady Yumi Hogan and Korean Consul General Kim Dong-ki, used shovels to mix rice and vegetables, such as bean sprouts, carrots and spinach, in a giant wooden bowl. After the mixing, visitors shared the food together. Organizers said the food was enough for about 500 people.
“It’s excellent. I used to go to Korean restaurants quite often when I was in San Diego. I really like bulgogi, and this is excellent as well,” said Steven Durbano after finishing a bowl of bibimbap with his two sons and wife.
“My two sons are taking taekwondo lessons at Majest Studio, and Majest is sponsoring this event. We’re also housing two of the taekwondo demonstration teams at our house as guests. We may take them to a nearby Korean restaurant as well,” he said, laughing.
Robert Lindsey, father of a family of four, also said his family came to see the taekwondo demonstration, adding that his 8-year-old son Robert and 10-year-old daughter Jennie have been taking taekwondo lessons for about a year.
“I like how it makes me flexible, and it makes me fit,” the daughter said of the Korean martial art.
Hogan, the first Korean-American first lady in the U.S., stressed the importance of cultural exchanges.
“It is important to share our diverse cultures with others, to expand our own perspectives and to help us build stronger relationships between communities. This will lead to stronger relations between Maryland, the entire United States and foreign nations – which is so important to building global strength and unity,” she said in a congratulatory speech.
“I hope we can continue to find ways to work together to help make American a better place – for all cultures – to live, work, raise a family and settle down. I know that through the diversity we share, and with all of us working together, we can change our community for the better,” she said.
Johnny Pantages, the husband of Tammy Lee, said that Koreans still outnumber Americans in terms of attendees in such an event, but the American proportion is growing.
“The attendance is probably 75 percent Korean, but there is that 25 percent that’s growing of Americans that come for art and then you see it not just in art. You see it in daily life. There’s more Koreans around. You see it in the food. They are eating in the malls,” he said.
“So it’s a step-by-step growth of the Korean population in America.”