By Eric Banford
Calling all dragon boaters – or those who have been wanting to know more about the unique activity – a festival this weekend will allow that experience as well as raise money for disaster relief.
The Ithaca Asian American Association is hosting a Friendship Festival from noon to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, October 14, at Cass Park in Ithaca. Community members are invited to organize a team of 10 paddlers to compete in a 200-meter race in a dragon boat.
“This festival is part of IAAA’s effort to introduce the culture of dragon boating to the community,” said Siv Somchanhmavong, a co-organizer of the event. “We typically hold a July event of the Finger Lakes International Dragon Boat Festival, which has been going on for 10 years but has taken a break and will return this July 14, (2018).”
The hope is that a fall event will introduce a new audience, namely college students, to the festival.
“The college students are a population that would certainly benefit from having a blast in the water racing each other,” continued Somchanhmavong. “It’s a great workout and a fun way to build community.”
The event also will raise money to support both next summer’s dragon boat festival and the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Effort. Donations to the latter beneficiary are aimed to assist those affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“We’d love to see a groundswell of support by having communities, neighbors, and organizations put together a team of 10 people and join us,” said Somchanhmavong.
Many of the local dragon boat racers have a personal connection with Puerto Rico due to their participation in the annual Puerto Rico Dragon Boat Festival.
“Puerto Rico is near and dear to our heart because our club for the past two years has gone to compete on the island,” said Somchanhmavong. “We know how much we’ve enjoyed the hospitality of the island, and the racing experience, and we just wanted to give something back.
“The dragon boat director down there has established an opportunity for us to direct funds to help with disaster relief,” he added.
Amy Kuo is also helping to coordinate the event, and she too feels a deep connection with Puerto Rico and the people there.
“We’ve raced there the past two years, and knowing the fellow dragon boaters in Puerto Rico, we really wanted to do something to help, letting them know we care about them,” she said. “I’m hopeful that this event can raise funds to help communities impacted by the recent disasters.”
Somchanhmavong pointed out that the name “Friendship Festival” was chosen because “there’s so much ill-will in the world, there’s a need to recognize that within our community we can establish relationships that can strengthen our collective resolve.”
Fabina Colon, director of the Multicultural Resource Center, one of the event’s sponsors, shared a similar sentiment.
“There are so many unfortunate events happening in our nation and world that continue to challenge our unity and solidarity,” she noted. “MRC supports the Friendship Festival because it gives us an opportunity to come together, strengthen our solidarity, learn teamwork through a beautiful and fun dragon boating activity, and support our brothers and sisters experiencing the tragic aftermath of natural disasters.”
“Dragon boat racing is all about community, bringing people of different age groups, different national origins, different races, all coming together to work together as a collective,” added Kuo. “And the Friendship Festival is a way to emphasize the cultural values the Asian and Asian-American contribute to the greater Ithaca community.”
For the October 14 races, each team must consist of 10 paddlers, with at least four of one gender. The top three teams in each division will be awarded Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Divisions are made up of: Youth (ages 13-18), collegiate, and community organizations and corporate/business.
Dragon boat racing has its roots in an ancient Chinese folk ritual, which has been held for more than 2,000 years throughout southern China. While competition has taken place annually for more than 20 centuries as part of religious ceremonies and folk customs, dragon boat racing has emerged in modern times as an international sport. A dragon boat is a long and wide canoe that requires from 10-20 paddlers to propel, plus a drummer who keeps the “heartbeat” rowing rhythm, and a sweep (steerer) at the rear of the boat.
The Ithaca Asian American Association is a local civic and social non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion, education, and celebration of Asian/Asian American heritage and culture. Sponsored by Social Ventures, a 501c3 non-profit organization, donations will be tax deductible.
The event is co-sponsor by the Cornell Dragon Boat Club, Cornell International Student Union, Latino Civic Association, No Más Lagrimas, and Multicultural Resource Center.
The registration fee is $500 per team; to register, visit goo.gl/forms/slPEPFUD5qjt4DxF2. For more information on the festival, visit Facebook.com/IthacaDragonBoatClub.