By Alice Moon, Downtown Hilo Improvement Association
HILO, Hawaii – Artists, crafts people, cultural practitioners, community leaders, and regular attendees have come together with the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association (DIA) to resurrect the 11th Annual Hilo Chinese New Year Festival that had been cancelled. One of Hawaii Island’s favorite family events, the free festival will take place on Saturday February 9 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Mo`oheau Park & Bandstand located across from the Hilo Farmers Market.
The sights, smells and sounds of celebrating this most auspicious and significant Asian holidays may be somewhat smaller and muted this year but will still showcase many of the Hilo-style cultures and traditions of the season. “The Lunar New year is a time for families to gather in celebration and to honor ancestors, this year the festival is actually on the eve of the New Year, which is traditionally spent with only one’s family. Our Festival embodies the Hawaiian extended family, or `ohana as we all come together as one family,” said DIA executive director Alice Moon. “Over many decades in the United States, many of the true Chinese or Asian traditions of the Chinese or Lunar New Year have been ‘Americanized’ to accommodate the modern family and be more inclusive of other cultures. In our case we ‘Hilo-ized’ it with the `ohana concept that invites all to be one family in one place for the day rather than only with our individual families,” Moon said.
Firecrackers will open the event at 9:30 a.m. at the front of the Mo`oheau Bus Station to bless the newly renovated building, which has received much needed repair and accessibility improvements thanks to Hawaii County Department of Parks & Recreation. In Mo`oheau Park Kobudo Taiko drums will pattern the beat and the Okinawan Shi Shi Mai lion will dance and prance among the audience. The Lono Kanakaole Trio playing Hawaiian music and dancing hula will spread the Aloha and invite everyone to look, listen and learn what `ohana means. The Keiki Chinese Costume Fashion Show at 12 noon, always an audience favorite coordinated by festival MC Desiree Moana Cruz, invites children of all ages to dress up and learn about their individual Chinese astrological signs. Keiki who are interested in being in the fashion show should come dressed in their finest attire and sign up at the Information Tent in the park between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. All participants will receive New Year special gifts in appreciation to remind them about the importance of the Chinese culture and traditions and their experience at the festival.
In the Mo`oheau Bandstand at 12 noon, the Hawaii County Band will perform their regularly scheduled concert with an eclectic blend of Elvis, Big Band, jazz, and a new piece, “Gloria” that bandmaster Paul Arceo is looking forward to directing for the first time. Following their performance there will be a special presentation with classical Indian dancer Angel and students offering a Chinese-style dance at 1:30 p.m.
Cultural practitioners, information booths, martial arts troupes, and demonstrations will be found in tents around the park alongside community members selling Hawaiian and Asian foods, arts, crafts and Chinese gift items. Nelson Makua of Na Makua Original Hawaiian Designs will also be on hand selling the Year of the Snake tee shirts. Hilo High School Key Club members are planning a free Keiki Activity Tent so parents can enjoy the festival while their kids get creative. The popular I-Ching booth returns to provide readings to individuals wishing for guidance and wisdom in exchange for a donation, part of which will be gifted to the festival. Donation boxes encouraging community support to ensure the sustainability of the festival will be located at various spots around the park.
“We originally cancelled the event because it has grown so large, beyond the DIA’s capacity to organize and because we were unsuccessful at finding adequate funding sources,” said Moon. “There was such a huge outpouring of sadness and Aloha when the word started getting around. We saw how many people would miss not just the fun and excitement but also an important part of their livelihood and family traditions, we decided to go forward with a somewhat smaller version that doesn’t require a large financial outlay,” said Moon.
The festival honors the late Robert “Steamy” Chow who guided and encouraged the development of the annual event. In the mid 1990s as the manager of the Kress Building for the Fong family that had purchased and renovated the facility, Chow celebrated the Chinese New Year there with lion dancers and firecrackers and was the inspiration for the festival. Partnering with Chow, Moon started the event in 2003 when she owned her own festival and event planning business and produced it until 2010 when she became DIA’s executive director. “I grew up without grandparents so Bob and his wife Lily felt like my ‘Chinese Grandparents’ who taught me so many things about the culture and the holiday. He always made it seem so easy and through thick and thin over the last ten years he helped me to realize that we were filling an important need in the community and that made it easy for me too. It is really my duty to continue his legacy and this played a part in us resurrecting the event,” Moon shared.
The 11th Annual Hilo Chinese New Year Festival is presented by the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association registered as a 501(c) 6 non-profit organization in 1962 and is supported this year by in-kind publicity offered by Ke Ola Magazine, donations of performers’ time and talent, and vendor fees. “We welcome any financial support at this time. There are still opportunities for sponsors to be publicly and visibly recognized for their assistance and for the community to contribute. Small or large, everyone’s gift or offering will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged,” said Moon. For more information about the festival or to make a contribution, please call the association at (808) 935-8850, visit www.downtownhilo.com or email email@example.com Kung Hee Fat Choy!