Chinese ‘Moon Fest’ highlights SE Portland’s Asian cultures

Discover why this colorful, joyful event is almost as important as is Chinese New Year to local people of many Asian cultures …

Striking a pose while warming up for their performance are these cute little dancers from the Portland Chinese Art and Cultural Center.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Folks who wanted to enjoy the Chinese Moon Festival – also called the “Chung Chiu” or Mid-Autumn Festival – didn’t head for Chinatown. Instead, more than a thousand people came to SE 82nd Avenue of Roses to celebrate this, the second most important holiday in the Chinese calendar – on September 18.

“The Moon Festival is a time for family gatherings,” said the event’s organizer, Charles Hui – Director, Portland Chinese Times, and of the Portland Chinese Art and Cultural Center. “It would be like Thanksgiving Day for Americans. But, instead of turkey, the featured food is called ‘Moon Cake’.”

Lee’s Association Lion Dance Team, founded in 2004 by Mr. Ken Lee, make their larger-than-life puppet costumes come to life. As part of a traditional dance, Charles Hui “teases” the lions with a cabbage tied to a string.

Being visited by a Lion Dancer is considered a sign of good fortune – which is why the audience is delighted when this colorful creature hops off the stage, and comes down to greet the revelers.

Historically, the Chinese Moon Festival is ancient. But, in the 14th century, as China revolted from the Mongol invasion, the Moon Cake gained significance. Legend has it, a leader hid messages within these cakes to coordinate a citizen uprising against the troops outside his city. Thus, the Emperor-to-be ingeniously took the city, and his throne.

Considered nearly as important as the Chinese Lunar New Year, it is a legal holiday in many Asian countries. “The significance of this event,” explained the event’s coordinator, Nannette Tran, “is that it helps the Chinese community feel more close to one another. We include our children in all of the activities, because we feel it’s important that they learn our traditions.”

Yan Zhen with Royal Foods shows a deluxe package of Moon Cakes they’re offering at the festival.

Under the cover of tents to dodge the raindrops, many come to enjoy this traditional Asian festival.

Events like the Moon Festival are presented for a wider audience than simply the Asian community, Tran said. “We enjoy sharing one of our most festive occasions with everyone. Learning about one another’s cultures helps increase understanding.”

The festival, held again this year at Eastport Plaza on SE 82nd Avenue of Roses, started off with a lively Lion Dance, energetically and entertainingly performed by Lee’s Association – and also included Chinese folk dances and other cultural presentations. Community service organizations and commercial enterprises informed the visitors, and offered colorful lanterns, other goods, and foods – including Moon Cakes.

On stage these performers from the Portland Chinese Art and Cultural Center perform a traditional harvest dance.

It’s not all Asian food at the festival! Charity Hefner, with the Eastport Plaza SUBWAY store, finds that everyone loves the delicious cookies she’s giving away.

Hui, whose business is located on inner SE Powell Boulevard, pointed out that the Chinese-American community here numbers about 30,000 people.

“Regardless of where they live, many of them come for shopping and dining to SE 82nd Avenue, which is why so many businesses have become successful here in Southeast Portland,” Hui said.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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