Indianapolis celebrated Asian culture and diversity through its 11th Annual Asian Festival, hosted by the Asian American Alliance, Inc. (AAAI) and the Burmese American Community Institute (BACI). The annual festivities, held at the Indiana State Museum, featured Myanmar (also known as Burma) through traditional dance, fashion, music, and food.
During his welcome address, Dr. Ro Ding, Board Chairman of the BACI, informed the crowd that approximately 17,000 newcomers from Myanmar are now calling Indianapolis their home.
The afternoon was filled with various performances ranging from orchestra ensembles to dance routines. Students from the BACI summer programs performed a dance routine and a fashion show that both signified unity and diversity. Their representation of all eight Burmese ethnic groups expressed the desire for peaceful co-existence among the different ethnicities. A local Chin group performed a traditional “Cheraw Lam”, known as the Bamboo Dance, which is often used in the Chin State for ceremonial purposes. David Lai, winner of Myanmar’s American Idol “Eimet Soneyar”, also made a special appearance as a part of his American Tour to fundraise infrastructure projects in Myanmar.
In the Great Hall, each of the main ethnic groups of Myanmar —Chin, Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Mon, Rakhine, Shan, and Bamar—were showcased through informative booths, posters, and cultural artifacts.
After touring Myanmar exhibits, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett presented the AAAI Youth Leadership Awards to select students for their outstanding achievement in leadership and community service. Mangtin Par, a sophomore at Perry Meridian High School and participant in the BACI summer programs, was one of the award recipients.
In his remarks, Hogsett reminded the audience that it is important that Indianapolis continues to be a welcoming and inclusive place that appreciates and celebrates diversity. Hogsett highlighted the representation of the eight major ethnic groups from Myanmar saying, “all of the ethnicities from Myanmar in Indianapolis help to create a healthier tapestry of color, tradition, food, and dance. All of these aspects make our community stronger and make our community diverse, welcoming, and inclusive. So I want to thank you for your presence here today and every day, making Indianapolis a better place to live.”
Echoing Joe Hogsett’s words, Elaisa Vahnie, Executive Director of the BACI, in his concluding remarks, spoke on the importance of becoming integrated citizens of a cohesive society. “As much as we are grateful to start our lives here as newcomers, we have the responsibility to integrate well, and an event like Asian Fest serves as an opportunity for us to engage, learn from one another, and promote a greater understanding among different groups.”
Emphasizing the interconnectedness of global and local events, Vahnie invited the Indianapolis community to visit Myanmar. “I can see this will have an impact, and I invite my fellow Hoosiers and Indianapolis citizens to visit Myanmar. Engagements like these are what help us continue to build stronger ties, better relationships from people to people, culture to culture, and even country to country.”
For more information about the Asian American Alliance’s mission and upcoming cultural events, check out their website at aaalliance.org.