Asian Americans forge the future at annual San Francisco festival

Lowen Hu (5), brother Darn Hu (7), father Walter Hu and mother Ling Woo Liu support the San Francisco AAPI community at a rally in Portsmouth Square in Chinatown in March. Photo: Mike Kai Chen, Special at The Chronicle

After a year marked by a unique trauma for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, Melanie Elvanie found it necessary, though difficult, to look to the future. This is why the theme for the 24th Annual Festival of the United States of America in Asia is “Forging the Future”. Such idealism and hope are essential to healing, says Elvanie, artistic director of the Asia Pacific Islands Cultural Center, which has organized the USAAF since 1998.

For more than two decades, the festival has celebrated Asian American art and performance. This year is no different – although some events are now live due to the pandemic.

The festival offers a range of programs, from live readings to theatrical performances, educational workshops to visual art showcases, including “Sowing Agency”. The eclectic exhibit, featuring the work of nearly two dozen Bay Area artists who reflect on climate change, kicks off the festival, which runs until June 27.

The hybrid version, however, is a difficult adaptation to the pandemic. As incidents of anti-AAPI violence have escalated, the Cultural Center has focused not only on continuing the festival, but also on providing a safe space for its performers and audiences. In recent months, the Cultural Center has held workshops on mental health and implemented “Love Letters to Chinatown,” a live virtual reading and artistic showcase paying homage to the history and people of the neighborhood in the midst of the city. economic devastation and assaults on Asian seniors on its streets.

These efforts, of course, do not come only in this time of current crisis. The organization’s role as a hub that helps the community come together grew out of its founding mission in 1996, says Elvanie.

For Asian American artists, this institutional support that promoted visibility and community building was and continues to be vital. In particular, during the chaotic and gloomy time of the past year, the theme of the upcoming festival aims to focus on celebrating and showcasing the most vulnerable areas of the community: Chinatown and the South Market Cultural Quarter. officially known as SOMA Pilipinas.

To that end, the festival will include a small concert of performances, including an evening with lead jazz pianist and composer Jon Jang, in Portsmouth Square on May 30. On June 5, SOMA Pilipinas will celebrate the launch of “Liwanag 3”, the third edition of the revolutionary anthology of American Filipino arts, first published in 1975.

Performers raise their fists in unity at Urban x Indigenous: Spirits of the Streets, presented at the SOMArts Cultural Center for USAAF 2015.

“I wanted to think about how we are fostering recovery, resilience and regeneration, especially in our SoMa and Chinatown communities, as these are the ones that are honestly hit the hardest by the pandemic,” says Elvanie. “We have old people in these areas, we have artists who live in these areas, we have a lot of low income and working class people in these areas.

These are the same people who are more frequently exposed amid growing incidents of street violence, she notes, although for some this wave of anti-AAPI sentiment is just the latest manifestation of discrimination.

“This kind of violence and racism has been happening in our communities since time immemorial,” says Rachel Lastimosa, editor-in-chief of “Linawag 3” and arts and culture administrator for SOMA Pilipinas. “It’s only now that he has gained attention and coverage.”

These questions only add to the importance of the festival, which aims to provide a sense of security and comfort. Coming together now is telling the community “we’re going to survive this,” Elvanie says. “We’re going to get through this. It is important to try to imagine something beyond what we are currently suffering from.

Asian United States of America Festival: 6 p.m. from Friday April 30 to June 27. Free – $ 30; all outdoor events are free with registration. For a full schedule of events and tickets, visit


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