Obon, Lotus, and Tamales

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Living in Los Angeles means living in a place where all sorts of cultures intersect, coexist, and mingle.  Global reality is especially apparent with the different summer festivals that spring up around downtown every year, and this past weekend I was able to enjoy the festivities at two long running Asian Pacific American events: The Lotus Festival and Zenshuji’s Annual Obon Carnival. 

The Lotus Festival is a City of Los Angeles APA event that has been running since the 70s to highlight the culture and lives of the variety of APA communities in Southern California.  The Obon Carnival is a Japanese Buddhist tradition of honoring ancestors that has been held at the Zenshuji Soto Mission for 50 years.

As is usual at most festivals and street fairs, the three most important elements are eating, shopping, and live entertainment, and many people go to these APA festivals expecting to experience Asia in America.  That is in fact what they will get a taste of, but, unfortunately, many often forget the “in America” part.

There were the absolutely gorgeous traditional dance and music such as the earth pounding performance of the taiko group Zendeko at the Obon festival accompanied by Shaolin style Kempo.  At night there was a Bon Odori, a beautiful and fun dance of gratefulness towards ancestors.  Dragon boat races zipped across the lake in Los Angeles’ Echo Park for the Lotus Festival, and local art and crafts were on display and sale all over with plenty of Chinese and Japanese print bamboo umbrellas to go around.  Thai ice tea, teriyaki chicken, and Korean BBQ filled the air with mouthwatering aromas.

But it wasn’t all just “Asian stuff”.  There were tamales and tacos for sale along with burgers, hot dogs, and baked apple pies.  The Lotus Festival had a jazz night and the Obon was rocked out by fusion rock band Random Ninjas.  Hula shows and hip hop dancers showed off their moves.

As I ordered a deliciously un-oily beef taco and a bag of delectably soft Okinawan dangos (which were like round, cinnamon and sugar powdered donut holes), a man next to me pointed to my taco and joked, “Authentic Japanese cuisine huh?”

I had to smile and answer back, “Authentic Japanese American.  This is LA, man. We own everything here.”

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