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Celebrations; African American and Asian festivals this weekend.

Byline: Nancy Sheehan

Now that the sun has finally deigned to show its face, it's time to get outside and party!!

What? You just haven't had time to whip up a plate of deviled eggs and you're fresh out of crepe paper bunting?? Don't worry. You can just relaaaaaxxxxx and leave all the party details to a planning committee made up of other people. Yes, organizers have been hard at work - so you won't have to be - planning two dynamic annual ethnic festivals that attract more exhibitors, entertainers and just plain fun-seeking folk each year. Both are happening this weekend.

First up is the 12th annual African American Festival from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Institute Park. You can keep the good times rolling Sunday with the pageantry-and-performance-rich Asian Festival from noon to 6 p.m. at the Italian-American Cultural Center, 28 Mulberry St. Admission to both festivals is free.

The African festival, presented by the Henry Lee Willis Center, the city's Black Unity group and others, has added a couple of new components this year: a community service award named after the late social activist and former Worcester School Committee woman Elizabeth L. "Betty" Price that will be presented to her family and six community members, and a Juneteenth celebration.

A Junewhaaaat? Festival organizers are glad you asked. Part of the festival will be dedicated to teaching us about a celebration that is growing in importance. According to Carlton Watson, Willis Center executive director, Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery. A bit of history from Willis Center researchers: It was on June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official Jan. 1, 1863. But the proclamation had little impact on the Texans because of the minimal number of Union troops available to enforce the new executive order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger's regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Later attempts to explain this two-and-a-half-year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. For whatever the reason, conditions in Texas remained status quo longer than was required by law.

Education is only part of the festival. The other part is fun, with music, dancing, drumming, food, games, storytelling and other activities. The event will feature local performers. "The festival focuses on the local community and the theme is unity and coming together," Watson said.

The unity theme also will be in evidence at the 6th annual Asian Festival Sunday. "When we started we just had four countries represented and now we have 10," said Tu Ha Le, executive director of the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts, which presents the festival. Ethnic groups participating are Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Pilipino, Korean and Bhutanese.

"It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort to try to build relationships, to build trust so we can get 10 different ethnic groups at the same table to work together," Le said. "It's something we feel proud of."

Then there is the challenge of organizing 300 performers, including several large youth groups. But, since passing Asian culture on to the next generation is one of the festival's main goals, organizers are happy to help the young ones do their dancing and singing thing.

The festival also will be a passport to learning for kids, whatever their cultural heritage. At the door, parents will be handed a brochure describing the offerings at each group's exhibition table. Kids will receive a passport with pages for each of the 10 represented countries' names. As they visit the tables, their passports will be stamped. The stamp design is a map of each country.

In between entertainment acts, you can nosh on food from several countries.

"It's open to everyone because we want to share with everyone in our city the diversity of our Asian culture," Le said. "Sometimes people think `Asian' is just one ethnic group, but we have a lot of different ethnic groups, and we all get together for the festival. We are proud to do it every year, to promote our culture, so that our children learn about it and to share that great diversity with our city."

ART: PHOTOS

PHOTOG: MICHELLE SHEPPARD Photos

CUTLINE: Committee members who worked to organize this year's African American Festival are, from left, Carlton Watson, Tony Newbold, Gizel Hampton, Charles Luster, Benetta Kuffour, Daniel Ford and Parlee Jones. (2) At left, the Daughters Of Zion, a song and dance group formed through the Second Baptist Church, rehearses for the festival. From left are Ajia D. Riley, 8, Nikyrah R. M. Campbell, 10, Lasyah A. Smith, 8 and Whitney L. K. Tucker-Davis, 12. (3) Teens practice a dance using a traditional Vietnamese hat, a Non La, in preparation for the Asian Festival. (4) At right is Thu Thi Kim, 15, of Worcester; below, at right is Andy Le, 17, of Worcester, and left of him is Toni T. Pham, 15, also of Worcester.
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Title Annotation:ENTERTAINMENT
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 26, 2009
Words:964
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