Asian Americans celebrate New Year at Tacoma Dome

The Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall will be filled with the sights and sounds of many Asian cultures Feb. 9 when Asia Pacific Cultural Center (APCC) presents its 10th annual celebration of the Chinese New Year. The event is free and open to the public.

In celebration of this, the Year of the Rat, the day will be filled with entertainment from various Asia Pacific cultures, "everything from very culturally-specific performances to closing out the day with a Cambodian hip-hop group," said APCC Executive Director Phil Chang. Performers will celebrate many of the different cultures reflected in the diverse population of the South Sound, including Chinese, Indian, Thai, Hawaiian, Samoan, Filipino and Korean. A Chinese American rock band is on the bill, a group of guys from Microsoft who call themselves Chime Band.

Crowd favorites will be back again this year, like community information and vendor booths offering gifts for sale and many different varieties of traditional Asian foods to eat.

There will also be educational, hands-on activities for children and something new this year for the little ones - face painting.

This year the fest will focus on the rich culture and heritage of Cambodia. Artifacts from The Killing Fields Museum in Seattle will be on display to educate visitors about the factual history of the Khmer Rouge holocaust.

A committee of nearly 40 local Cambodian Americans from Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia came together to plan out what will be presented at the New Years festival. Sinoun Hem, owner of Engine House Coffee & Deli at 3801 McKinley Ave., is a key organizer. Hem has been a Tacoma resident for 27 years, and is a very busy Cambodian community leader who has volunteered with APCC's New Year celebrations since their beginning.

Hem said the committee has something special in the works for the grand opening ceremony, the Cambodian tradition of welcoming the new angel for the New Year to bless the people and bring prosperity.

Before that gets going, though, at 9 a.m. those who wish to can start the morning off with a Tai Chi exercise, "a quiet, relaxing warm-up before the activities begin," as Chang described it.

The Cambodian entertainers take the stage at 11 a.m. Dressed in traditional costumes from all parts of Cambodia, performers will do both classical and folk dances, and sing the Cambodian and American national anthems. An introduction to Cambodian New Year history will be given. Following traditional ways, foods will be offered to Buddhist monks along with appropriate homage to the Buddha. Then there will be a fashion show of traditional costumes followed by six different dances.

In Cambodia, the New Year is celebrated for three days following the rice harvest and prior to monsoon season, around April 13-15. The first day is called "Moha Songkran" and is marked with candles, incense, kneeling and prostrating oneself before the Buddha and washing with holy water. On the second day, "Wanabat," people commit acts of kindness toward those less fortunate and present gifts to parents and the elderly in honor of the ancestors. Bathing the Buddha marks the third day, "Tngai Laeung Saka," when parents and elders are also washed to bring longevity and happiness to everyone's lives.

Chang wished to thank the many volunteers and sponsors who make APCC's New Year celebration so fantastic: Tacoma Arts Commission, Muckleshoot Foundation, Tacoma Power, Pierce College Foundation, MultiCare, Albers & Company and The News Tribune. In past years the event has attracted upwards of 10,000 people. "Those sponsors really make it possible for us to do this," Chang noted.

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