By Summer Wong
Hundreds celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Irvine Global Village Festival last Saturday, Orange County’s biggest and most attended cultural community event, featuring over a hundred performances on five stages.
The Irvine Global Village Festival traces its roots to an idea formed in 1998, when a group of passionate Orange County residents established the very first Multicultural Festival to promote understanding, build unity and harmonize with all cultures. The second Festival was in 2000, and saw an increased number of attendees due to heightened interest from the public. The founders of the Irvine Global Village Festival are now the founders of the Irvine Multicultural Association, where they continue to promote awareness of different cultures in addition to playing an active role in planning and developing the annual festival.
On the far end of Bill Barber park, a line-up of international cuisines took mine and my friends’ taste buds on a one way trip to paradise. In front of this line was a crowded marketplace filled with unique cultural gifts, crafts and textiles from all over the world. Families came together to enjoy the interactive, educational and entertaining cultural displays. There was even a “World Religion” section of the park, which provided attendees with the opportunity to expand their spiritual knowledge by interacting with many established faith-based organizations in Irvine.
As my friends and I further wriggled our way through the pulsating crowd of people, the first sight that caught my eye was the huge balloons that hung suspended in the sky. Next, I saw the flags from different countries gently waving in the weak breeze. As the baking sun broke down on their backs, families broke out their sunscreen and lathered up. Further into the festival, the smell of food trucks hit my nostrils with a muddled scent comprised of sizzling meat, freshly-baked bread and more spices than I ever could have fathomed. The smell sent a pang of hunger running through my gut as I pushed forward, determined to see as much of the festival as I possibly could. Enamored and entranced, I hit up every tent in site, grasping for as much new culture as I could.
As I stepped out to the field, a strong fragrance from several tents piqued my curiosity. Following the trace of a scent, I arrived at a tent called “Live Aloha with Essential Oils, Fragrances, and Lotions”. The representatives of Hawaiian culture were dressed in vibrantly-colored Hawaiian shirts, gorgeous leis and hula skirts which swished with every movement of the hips. In this booth were homemade lotions, perfumes and aromatherapy that consisted of an odd-looking oblong tube that diffuses out draughts of scented steam. These devices were, as I learned, designed to help individuals who are sick, stressed, fatigued, or in need of a punch of adrenaline, made from Hawai’i’s natural ingredients. The vendors hospitably welcomed my friends and me to try their sweet-scented lotions on our hands and to sit down and spend a minute taking deep breaths of fresh aromas from air diffusers surrounding the tent. As a stressed, full-time student, this break was exactly what I needed to feel calm and relaxed.
Afterwards, I was eagerly ushered into a tent labeled “Handmade Chinese 12 Zodiac” to check out their handmade zodiac animals. The zodiac plays an important role in China’s culture, and has a huge impact on its history. Originally, the zodiac had been the way to date a 12-month Chinese lunar year, and the animals were part of important folklore. For example, children born in the year of the ox (like myself) are said to grow to become diligent, dependable, ambitious and strong individuals who develop a great desire to advance. To my grateful surprise, there was one ox statue left. I was amazed at the fascinating intricacy of the figurine’s carefully-carved details. I was especially pleased with the statue’s price tag — rather reasonable for an item which surely must have taken hours to create. After quickly purchasing it, the vendors invited me to friendly conversation.
Being Chinese myself, this section of the festival truly allowed me to connect with my culture in ways I haven’t often been able to. I made small talk with the vendors in Chinese, building connections and chatting aimlessly. As my friend and I took our leave of the festival, I had a moment to reflect upon the day’s journey. Though the event is a chance for people to learn about new cultures and different ways of living, it also serves to affirm one’s place within one’s own culture. In learning more about other cultures, I became more proud of where my own culture stood amongst its fellows — diverse, intriguing and impossibly intricate.