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8th Annual Cleveland Asian Festival

We spent the weekend of May 20th and 21st, Saturday and Sunday, at the 8th Annual Cleveland Asian Festival at AsiaTown at East 27th Street and Payne Avenue where we tabled on behalf of "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" which was an "Associate Sponsor" of the event.

As the letter from the Cleveland Asian Festival Committee that appeared in the festival guide indicated, the purposes of the festival were "strengthening the identity of AsiaTown, educating and promoting Asian culture and traditions, and celebrating Asian Heritage Month."

As the letter read, in part, "the 8th annual Cleveland Asian Festival highlights Cleveland's Asian community and its commitment to Greater Cleveland. Cleveland Asian Festival continues to strengthen the identity of AsiaTown and to establish it as a vibrant neighborhood in Cleveland. For all the organizations and individuals involved, creating CAF has been a truly rewarding experience that has united us as a community and provided us with a vehicle to collectively voice our opinions. We are proud of the Asian community's growing engagement and will continue to look after the interest of AsiaTown and its people and to work collaboratively with all interested parties to create a brighter Cleveland future."

Due to the sometimes intense rainfall on Sunday and the often prevailing humidity, we were most grateful to have our table located inside of the building instead of outside. For most of our time at the CAF we remained at our table but occasionally ventured out to stretch our legs and take advantage of the delectable vegetarian pad thai available for purchase.

We also watched the opening ceremonies that took place at noon on Saturday. Ever since we can remember, this happening has been emcee'd by Mr. Wayne Wong and he did so again this time. He introduced Mr. Vi Huynh, head of the CAF Executive Committee, who went our of his way to thank all of the approximately 200 volunteers (some of whom have been active for 8 years) who made the festival which he termed "a labor of love" possible. He also said that he considered AsiaTown to be "a hidden gem of Cleveland."

The next speaker was Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson who also credited the volunteers who helped to make the CAF "a destination point in Cleveland" because a good number of people visit Cleveland each year just to attend the festival.

Mr. Wong acknowledged that security for the festival was an important element so he introduced Commander Deirdre R. Jones of the Cleveland Police Dept. who presented special certificates to 15 Cleveland Police Officers of Asian descent of which 5 were present.

Mayor Ron Falconi of Brunswick, Ohio is one of the few Asian American mayors in the country and on this day he said that he was proud to call Northeast Ohio his home. He talked for a moment how the Asian American populace was more diverse in culture and language than what most people realize but they are all united in their love for the United States.

Coming right behind Mayor Falconi, was Cleveland City Councilperson T.J. Dow (Ward &) who represents the AsiaTown area. He recalled a time eight years ago when very few people thought that the CAF would ever get off the ground and how wrong they were. He, himself, looked forward to spending time at the festival this weekend and appreciating the Asian culture.

Ohio State Rep. Bill Patmon echoed Councilperson Dow's remarks and went a bit further by praising those who immigrate to the United States from the Asian countries because they often start businesses and "do Cleveland a lot of good."

As the opening ceremonies drew to a close, Mr. Wong shared with us that fact that perhaps 25% to 30% of those who attend the CAF each year are here for the first time and most of them say that they look forward to coming back again next year. Thus, the attendance records generally grow larger each year.

Our own table was located right across from "Asia Plaza Pharmacy" and we had a lot of good conversations with people who stopped by to say hello and to share their own stories with us. These included:

***Mr. Donald Chan, a very dedicated volunteer, chatted with us for a while on both Saturday and Sunday. He certainly knew of Ms. Wong and was glad that she helped as many people as she has and that we now have so many offices scattered throughout the country. In the course of our conversations, Mr. Chan told us that one point in time (when he was younger) there were maybe 90 laundries in Cleveland that employed Chinese immigrants who also lived at the locations. His own father owned a grocery store and he remembers him always delivering food (tofu was an important staple) to these laundries.

***A woman who immigrated to the United States from South Vietnam asked us for one of our "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" letter openers. Of course, we gave it to her and she bowed politely. Another grateful person was one who had obtained a letter opener from us when we tabled at her church a couple of years ago but she had lost it and was thus happy when we gave her another one. 

***Mr. Michael Hong from the "Siam Cafe" collected about 10-15 of our letter openers to distribute to his staff and customers just as he did last year.

***An understandably frustrated husband and wife who were perplexed because their adopted daughter was having such a tough time proving her citizenship to the administration of a local college in order that she may receive financial aid. When she attended another college, in the same system, there was no trouble at all.

***Likewise, we talked with a woman from Cyprus who was having a difficult time with her residency requirements and there was a woman who immigrated to the U.S. from China who was having challenging time obtaining a tourist visa for her mother.

***Ms. Indira Deja who said that she is friends on Facebook with Ms. Margaret W. Wong and believed that our "timing is great" by being a presence at AsiaTown at a time when immigration is a political hot point.

***Along the same lines, a recently married couple was glad that Ms. Wong helped the wife, who immigrated to the U.S. from India, get her green card just before President Trump took office.

***A very kindly man named James teaches a music class that has students from India, South Korea, and China enrolled in it. He told us that his life has been enriched by working with these kids.

***Finally, an man whose first name was Chong walked over in order to verify that Ms. Wong's last name was indeed Wong. He then grinned and said that his own name was Wong too.

In addition to dialoguing, we also gave away quite a few copies of Ms. Wong's book "The Immigrant's Way" in various languages. Among the recipients were:

***Mr. Edward Marsh who wanted to read it because he was a "fan" of Ms. Wong's and wanted to learn more about her and her beliefs.

***Mr. Gary Kolkarni who immigrated to the U.S. from India 45 years ago took a copy as did Ms. Margaret Buzas who was naturally interested in immigration since her father immigrated to the U.S. from Hungary back in the 1950's.

***Mr. Julio Yactayo who works as a visiting nurse and is very much involved in the Hispanic community of Cleveland. A concerned citizen who sincerely loves people and wants to help them; he was performing medical procedures for an organization tabling at CAF just as we were. He asked for a copy in Spanish so he could share it with his friends and we were glad to to give him one.

***Mr. Marty Langlois whose wife has assisted quite a few refugees said that they regard Ms. Margaret W. Wong as a "special person" and "we need more like her."

***Ms. Lannie Lee who proudly said that she has known Ms. Margaret W. Wong since the latter was 19 years old. Ms. Lee gave us an iced coffee so we gave her two books at her request; in Chinese for herself and in English for her son.

All we can say was that we had a fine time at the 2017 Cleveland Asian Festival but it might have one of the few times in which the attendance did not top that of the previous year because of the often heavy rain on Sunday which caused an obvious drop-off for several hours. Nevertheless, Saturday was a beautiful day and AsiaTown was bursting with people.  

By:

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC