Asian Festival at Salinas Chinatown: Celebrating Chinese, Japanese, Filipino culture and preserving history

What warms this lola’s (grandmother’s) heart?  Seeing the next generation Filipino-Americans continue to learn and dance the “tinikling” at the Philippine Community Center — one of the venues for cultural performances at the 8th Annual Asian Festival in Salinas last month.

A popular Philippine folk dance, the tinikling originated in the island of Leyte and is named after the “tikling” bird.  The dance imitates the movements of the birds as they walk along branches and grasses, and how they get away from bamboo traps set out by rice farmers.

I remember trying this dance while in elementary school, and my worries of getting my feet caught (and smashed) in between the bamboo poles!

Filipino Folk Dancing Tinikling keep the beat

Little ones help to keep the dance rhythm by banging half coconut shells — and audience clapping / participation also helps to keep the bamboo pole holders timing as they slide and clang the bamboo poles for the dance.

The motion and footwork for the dances is also an entry for the WordPress photo challenge — though unfortunately, my camera settings produced a lot of photos also appropriate for the challenge theme of blur.

Note:  If you are interested in Philippine birding, see this article from Cornell Lab of Ornithology Getting familiar with Philippine Birds, including the “tikling” bird.  Excerpt with dance description:

In one of those convergences that make travel fascinating, we sat in a barnlike banquet hall at dinner and watched a local dance troupe perform the traditional Philippine tinikling, in which two people kneel and clap long bamboo poles together while dancers hop in and out of the poles in rhythm. The dance is named for tikling, the local term for a rail: dancers mimic the graceful, high-stepping gait of the bird as it walks through the marsh vegetation. In the Villa Escudero marsh the next morning, we saw several members of the Rallidae including Buff-banded and Barred rails, White-breasted Waterhen, White-browed Crake, and Watercock.

Aside from folk dancing, the festival is also a great place to sample authentic Chinese, Japanese and Filipino food.

At the Philippine venue, my favorite banana leaf wrapped item — the suman — as well as cassava cakes, puto, fried banana turons and halo-halo were among the choices for dessert.

But first, you had to get your chicken adobo, lumpia, pancit and rice combo packs…

The afternoon presentation at the Philippine venue showcased traditional Philippine formal wear featuring the Barong Tagalog — Filipino formal attire, and traditionally made of pineapple fabric or a type of fine abaca (musa textilis related to the banana plant) — and the changes throughout history in traditional women’s attire, influenced by over 300 years of the Spanish colonial era.

Philippine fashion show at Asian Festival 1

The malong garment — traditionally used by a number of ethnic groups in the Southern Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago — and its many variations was an interesting part of the fashion show.

A group of women who performed a folk dance earlier in the day also participated in the afternoon’s fashion show.

Filipino-American artist Elgene Ryan Tumacder was at the festival to exhibit some of his artwork…

Fil Am artist Elgene Ryan Tumacder at Asian Festival

You can see more of his work at the 2015 Capstone Festival, California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) on Friday, May 15th at the Visual / Public Art Buildings – 100 Campus Center, Seaside.

The exhibit by the Monterey Bay Chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) is a must see, especially if you are looking to learn more about the Filipino community’s history in the Monterey Bay / Salinas Valley, and Filipinos in the context of the history of the United States.

I also add two random photographs taken at the festival because 1) the Philippines’ most famous athlete Manny Pacquiao fought against Floyd Mayweather last weekend and 2) I love the Tagalog word “makulit” and spotted a little guy with the word on his T-Shirt.

Makulit means one who is stubborn, or annoyingly asks questions that have already been answered…and hopefully the “makulit” person is toddler aged, when they ask the same thing over and over, and not an adult, right?  Though you can call anyone, regardless of age MAKULIT.

This year, children representing the Chinese community also performed at the Philippine venue stage.  Their dance delighted the audience!

If you missed this year’s festival and want to learn more about the  history of Salinas Chinatown, you can visit the Asian Cultural Experience (ACE) Salinas website.

Virtual Walking Tour Salinas ChinatownWhile there, be sure to check out the site’s historical timeline feature.

The timeline starts with the California Gold Rush, then the arrival of Chinese workers recruited to build the transcontinental railroad, and later as laborers to drain lakes and swamps that created 500 acres of farmland in Salinas, to the arrival of Japanese and Filipino immigrants to work as farm laborers.

The timeline feature gave me a better understanding of the struggles of Asian immigrants, and their contributions to the modern-day agricultural wonder that is Monterey county.

Historical Timeline Salinas ChinatownThe ACE Salinas website also features an oral history archive, conducted by California State University Monterey Bay students and faculty, as well as video documentaries about Chinatown produced by professional filmmakers and film students.

Oral History Archive

Click HERE to visit the Oral History Archive main page and here for the Filipino Community oral history archives.

And to learn more about the Monterey Bay Chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society, click here.

I hope to see this festival continue grow in the coming years, and with the support of Monterey Bay residents, I believe it will.

9 thoughts on “Asian Festival at Salinas Chinatown: Celebrating Chinese, Japanese, Filipino culture and preserving history

  1. Thanks so much for posting this, Jane! I will repost to the Asian Cultural Experience FB page and the ACE Blog!

    • Happy to do so…especially that I first learned about the festival through your blog post, when my grandchildren’s taekwondo school participated in the event (I think that was year 4).

  2. Pingback: Lola Jane at the Salinas Asian Festival | Asian Cultural Experience, Salinas, CA

  3. What a great write up of this Philippine (Chinese, Japanese) festival in the States. It looks very grand on many levels, showcasing different aspects of the culture from sport to food to art. I never knew banana was a popular dessert in your culture. I love banana 😀

    Fashion shows are usually a fixture of many cultural events, aren’t they. There is just something so unique about each culture’s fashion sense and the way garments are wrapped around the body. I wouldn’t be surprised if you took part in the fashion parade 😀

  4. Thank you for the comment and visit, Mabel. Is there a similar festival in the part of Australia where you live, and are there “Chinatown” areas near you?

    This festival is an effort to define an area of historical significance to early Asian immigrants here in Monterey Bay, and it is a bit unusual in that it covers 3 cultures.

    The early Asian immigrants all lived in this area, and because of discrimination during that time of our history, they could not really live anywhere else. It’s amazing to see positive changes we see during our lifetime, and I think it is important to also preserve history, so we never go back to times of ignorance.

    Then of course, the food, fashion and dances are great ways to celebrate cultures, and convey the historical richness within our community.

    There are hundreds of banana varieties in the Philippines, so the banana itself is a popular food item, and also popular is the use of banana leaves in cooking. You probably have similar banana-wrapped food in Malaysia when you lived there, Mabel.

    The Philippines is the 2nd largest producers of bananas in the world, after India. And if you are interested in how we use banana leaves in cooking, I posted about banana leaves when my grandson tried to bite into one while we were eating at a Filipino restaurant, and I had to explain to him that it is just a “wrapper” and not for eating 🙂 It’s at

  5. Cultural celebrations are always full of such interesting history and tradition. And food. Did I tell you I love food? All kinds. I’ll try almost anything (I’m not sure about balut)…

    • Wow, you know about balut! I don’t blame you for not wanting to try balut…I think we got our brother-in-law to try it while he was in the Philippines. We were at the beach for my Mom’s birthday, and it was at dusk. So yes, crack the top of the shell, drink that “broth” first, a bit of rock salt, and enjoy the rest 🙂 !

      Dusk is when the balut sellers come out with baskets of warm balut, freshly cooked and ready to eat! Now I know why they come out towards evening, this is one food you do not want to see in the light of day.

      • Why do you put broth in “quotes”? Uh, never mind…don’t want to know. Actually, I’m sure it’s delicious; it’s just a mental hurdle to eat, like having rocky mountain oysters or brain tacos. Ooh, I feel nauseous…

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