As Cityview’s Food Dude often points out, the Des Moines metro has become home to a geographically surprising number of quality seafood restaurants of the Asian variety, some of which he’s even put on par with establishments found only in coastal metropolises like New York City. While the praise for that is shared among not just the ambitious entrepreneurs, talented chefs and quality-of-life characteristics that inspire such gems to want to live in Iowa, the credit first belongs to former Gov. Robert D. Ray and his 1979 Governor’s Task Force, which opened Iowa’s arms to Vietnamese refugees after the war — most of whom had served as allies to American soldiers overseas.
“My parents were (Vietnamese) refugees in the ’70s. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Governor Ray,” said Nu Huynh, executive director of the Iowa Asian Alliance (IAA). “That’s how we got here — particularly the Vietnamese and Taidam communities wouldn’t be here, and that’s really thanks to him, and it paved a way for other people in need and refugees to come here to Iowa.”
Refugees who would birth some of Des Moines’ tastiest culinary talents, most skilled fitness instructors and brightest minds. Yes, indeed. Thank you, Gov. Ray.
“He’s someone very near and dear to this community (IAA and CelebrAsian),” Huynh said. “We’re forever grateful. We can’t thank him enough.”
But they keep trying. Every year the 85-year-old “Iowa Award” recipient is extended a personal invitation to the festival, and last year, even in ailing health, he attended CelebrAsian and was honored on stage by event organizers.
“The story and the legacy of who Governor Robert D. Ray is and what he’s done for the communities abroad are so important,” Huynh said. “We wanted to recognize his works, and show him how much of a difference he’s made in all the lives of the entire community.
It’s unknown if Ray will be attending this year, but as per tradition, Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will kick off the opening ceremony at the Capitol Grounds at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 31.
This Saturday will be jam-packed with entertainment, Asian cooking how-tos, health and wellness workshops, family and children’s activities, inflatables, mascots, martial arts demonstrations and competitions, interactive games and activities for people of all ages, physical challenges and tournaments and so much more, including:
- A scavenger hunt across the CelebrAsian grounds;
- Green-screen pictures which allow attendees to travel to a variety of Asian countries;
- Kingyo Sukui — a Japanese fish-catching game;
- Table tennis tournament;
- An Asian workout competition at the Health and Wellness Stage; and
- Takraw and martial arts demonstrations.
What is Takraw?
One of CelebrAsian’s most cherished traditions is the Takraw tournament. Brilliant athletics are on display for this volleyball-meets-soccer game.
The officially recognized name for the Southeast Asian sport is Sepak Takraw. Translated, “Sepak” means “to kick” and “Takraw” means “basket/ball” in Thailand, which is where much of the game’s origin is rooted as far back as the 15th century, according to the Takraw Association. In the sacred Buddhist temple Wat Phra Kaew, where the Emerald Buddha rests in Bangkok, Thailand, murals depict the Hindu god, Hanuman, playing it, and other records date the sport during the reign of King Naresuan (1590-1605). Today Takraw is still fairly unknown in the mainstream, despite the efforts of many Asian athletes, including Olympic rejections.
It’s still played at many tournaments, even professionally, and at the CelebrAsian Festival in Des Moines, teams sign up with $7-$200, and the best of three matches is the victor in a round-robin bracket. Cash and trophies are awarded for first-, second- and third-place teams, and prize amounts depend on the number of teams registered. If a minimum of 11 teams register, for example, prize money will be $1,000, $300 and $150 respectively.
Watch or play Takraw at the CelebrAsian Festival grounds. The tournament will start between 9:30 and 10 a.m. on Saturday.
Warrior Spirit Martial Arts
Another competitive challenge and demonstration that is a cherished staple at CelebrAsian is the Warrior Spirit Martial Arts Competition. This year, categories include Traditional Empty Hand, Traditional Weapon, Personal Expression – Empty Hand and Personal Expression – Weapon. It’s a fan favorite, as skill levels range from none to ninja. The only stipulation is participants must be age 5 or older to compete (for a $35 fee). The competition starts at 3 p.m.
Table Tennis or Ping-Pong?
If the athleticism or violence is too much, perhaps something of a more Forrest Gump variety… but don’t call it Ping Pong. Early manufactures of table tennis each had different trademarked names for it, including Indoor Tennis, Gossima, Whiff-Waff and Ping Pong. Back then, these games consisted of cards, game boards, dice, rackets, balloons and even tiddledy winks, but the first action game of tennis on a table was in 1890, according to Gerald Gurney, author of “Table Tennis: The Early Years” and www.AllAboutTableTennis.com.
When English sports company John Jaques & Son became the market leader in the 1920s with its patented Ping Pong, it trademarked the name, so the only way table tennis could be considered “Ping Pong” was if the J.J. & Son brand of equipment was used, and the company threatened to sue anybody who used the name Ping Pong without specifying the use of its equipment.
So Table Tennis, it became and it remains today. At CelebrAsian, the second annual Table Tennis Tournament kicks off its preliminary rounds at 9:30 a.m. at Four Mile Community Center, 3711 Easton Blvd. Semi-finals and Finals start at 2 p.m. at the Capitol Grounds CelebrAsian VIP tent.
New this year are Women’s and Intermediate tournaments. Players go best out of five games for a win over an opponent that could yield cash and a trophy. The cost to register is $20 for Advanced Singles, $15 for Intermediate Singles and $10 for Beginner and Women Singles.
Live music and entertainment
Of course, a heritage festival would not be complete without live music and entertainment, and organizers are excited about CelebrAsian 2014’s main headlining act, YouTube sensation, Paul Dateh, a hip-hop violinist who hails from Los Angeles, California. Dateh’s performance will also feature a robot sidekick of sorts, called Sartron. The $6 million Sartron is eight feet of head-to-toe chrome that will actively perform to Dateh’s compositions — singing, dancing and comedic interpretations.
Sartron is one of Dateh’s latests “clients.” His work has been famed worldwide, seen and heard by millions via print, television and radio media. He has composed and arranged music for hip-hop recording artist Kanye West, as well as for AT&T, Google, Nickelodeon, Sony Ericcson and L’Oreal/Mizani. He also co-created the score for the short film “NANI.”
The main-stage entertainment will also include:
- Larry Berenguel;
- The Vida Sisters;
- Valley High School Lion Dancers;
- A fashion show/pageant; and
- Cultural Asian performances.
Asian community villages
Along with all the entertainment, food, music, history, arts and crafts — both indigenous and contemporary to the many different Asian communities — CelebrAsian showcases the different Asian cultures themselves. The Asian cultures represented at the festival are organized into “villages.” New this year are the Japanese Village and an Emerging Village.
“The Emerging Village is made up of three ethnic communities that do not yet have resources established in order to have their own village,” Huynh explained. “But this is a way for them to come to the festival, be a part of the action and showcase who they are.
“We also have Emerging Entrepreneurs. It’s a way for entrepreneurs to showcase their product (or service) and a way for us to give back and help these individuals showcase their talent and hopefully build their business.”
Each village is required to have three tents set up featuring ethnic food, culture and crafts of its Asian community. Having that presence at CelebrAsian not only helps them get their respective heritages out there and pass on the legacy, but, at the same time, it offers a funding source for their organizations to implement programs, raise money and recruit volunteers, Huynh said.
“We (IAA) are just a bigger umbrella,” Huynh said. “Two hundred volunteers are required to even pull off CelebrAsian.
“We absolutely cannot do this festival ourselves. They cannot do it themselves. We have to come together. It requires a union of all these different communities, and I think that’s what I love the most about it.
“The festival allows us to engage businesses, organizations, volunteers and leaders of all ages and backgrounds to come together for a common goal. Through that experience, we are fostering personal development, professional experience, networking, collaboration, volunteerism, community engagement and pride in Asian culture and heritage.” CV