If you’re needing a bit of good luck, be sure to catch the lion dance at this year’s UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures Asian Festival on Saturday.
The popular one-day event celebrating Asian cultures and cuisines returns after a three-year hiatus, with a change from February to May and a move from its former ITC home to the UTSA downtown campus.
The festival kicks off at 10 a.m. with a parade led by Brooklyn band Red Baraat, followed by the San Antonio Lion Dance Association and other participating performance groups. All will then gather for an opening ceremony in the Bill Miller Plaza, with a full schedule of performances, education sessions and cooking demonstrations, food vendors and entertainment until 5 p.m.
The traditional Chinese lion dance recalls an ancient tale of villagers constructing a giant lion to ward off the monster Nien, and modern-day lion dances feature papier mâché lions animated by pairs of dancers. Anyone who witnesses the dance is in for a good year, said Christina Lew, a member of the Lion Dance Association who will play drums for the parade and subsequent opening ceremony performance.
“The lion dance is performed as a way of warding off evil spirits, warding off bad luck. So anybody who watches it, they will have good luck for the upcoming year,” Lew said.
Following the ceremony, attendees will be able to choose from an array of Asian cuisines and cultural activities. Thai, Korean, Filipino, Chinese, Hawaiian, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, and Cambodian dishes will be available from a variety of vendors, some of whom will feature dishes not on their regular restaurant menus, said Elva Adams, an Asian Festival committee member who helped organize this year’s festival. Chefs will also offer cooking demonstrations, Adams said.
K-pop will have an outsize presence at the festival, with local groups KPM Dance Association, KTD Official, and Echo Effect K-Pop performing. Dance fans will appreciate the variety of forms ranging from the traditional Chinese lion and dragon dances to South Indian Bharatanatyam and North Indian Kathak, traditional Korean fan, flower and drum dances, folk dances of the Philippines, and Hawaiian Pacific Island songs and dances by Hula Halau Ohana Elikapeka.
Other offerings include manga animation drawing, taekwondo and other martial arts, tai chi, and a performance by Austin singer-songwriter BettySoo. Red Baraat will close the festival with a 3:30 p.m. main stage performance.
The festival originated back in the 1990s as a celebration of the Lunar New Year, recognized in many Asian cultures, but the move to May — Asian Pacific American Heritage Month — means a more inclusive event, Adams said.
The term Asian refers to “an enormous section of geography,” said ITC Senior Communications Specialist James Benavides, including “Pacific island nations all the way to the Ural Mountains, the nations of the South China Sea area, the Indian subcontinent, Japan, Korea,” and cultures and subcultures within those regions.
That range is represented in the festival and in San Antonio, and as the city’s Asian population grows, so will future Asian festivals, Benavides said.
General admission tickets are $15, and $5 for children 12 and under. Free parking is available in lots 1-5 under the Interstate 35 overpass.