ADVERTISEMENT

East Market ushers in the Lunar New Year with its third annual celebration

A young girl from the Polynesian group Siva Ori performing the Siva Afi, a cultural fire dance. Kenneth Prabhakar | photo editor
ADVERTISEMENT

By Avery Ballman | Staff writer

In the early hours of Lunar New Year Sunday morning, the parking lot of East Market and Goods—a local Asian specialty market—was filled with vendors and the hollow sound of a beating drum. The sky blue Loong (Chinese dragon) and the smell of Bahn mi, meat skewers and sticky rice wafted through the crowd. This is the market’s third annual celebration of this holiday, and its energy emulates what the Year of the Rabbit stands for: prosperity, hope and peace.

East Market co-owner Johnny Navarro told Fox 44 that he wants to make this year’s celebration bigger than the last. The lineup for the Lunar New Year celebration included traditional Polynesian dances by Siwa Ori, lumpia and ramen eating contests, a performance by the Waco Ukulele Orchestra, a Baylor Vietnamese Student Association fashion show and a performance by Fil-am Waco
Folk dancers.

Siva Ori Polynesian group performing a traditional Pacific Islander cultural dance.  Kenneth Prabhakar |  photo editor
Siva Ori Polynesian group performing a traditional Pacific Islander cultural dance. Kenneth Prabhakar | photo editor

“Just by talking more and more with the community and really reaching out to see what they want and where they’re missing some things,” Navara said. “Because almost everyone in the Asian community here in Waco has little pockets that are hidden.”

East Market is Waco’s only Asian specialty food store. The event featured a conglomeration of Asian businesses such as Le’s Kitchen, Cha Community, Clay Pot and more. Other businesses such as Bridge City, a coffee bakery, were also present.

Evan Iluzada, co-owner of Bridge City and a member of the Asian Leadership Network, is a first-generation Filipino-American. He recently learned about the Lunar New Year from his friends and said he was excited to attend this celebration to understand his connection in this community.

“I want to both embrace who I am and then elevate Asians in this community and be able to bring value to what they do and to their businesses,” Iluzada said. “So I really want to be a participant and figure out ways to promote the people who are here as well.”

San Antonio sophomore Jessa Whalen, cultural chair of the Philippine Student Association, also recently learned how revered the Lunar New Year is in the Philippines. FSA was invited to the event by Navarra as East Market sponsors the club by providing student discounts and hosting their events.

“We just like to support them,” Whalen said. “So we feel it’s a great opportunity for us to be here, not only to represent our organization, but to participate in something that they’ve created within the Waco community.”

At their booth, they sold ube cookies, a bright purple dessert with powdered sugar and soda served in a bag, known as “street style.” One of their members won first place in the lumpia eating contest.

The Lunar New Year celebration brought together many different aspects of Asian culture, not just Chinese. The dances from Siva Ori Polynesian Dance left the stage in flames—literally. The group performed the Siva Afi, a traditional Samoan dance that involves flames as they dance. Other Pacific island dances were represented with beautiful outfits and hats made from leaves
and colorful fabrics.

Siva Ori Polynesian group performing a traditional Pacific Islander cultural dance.  Kenneth Prabhakar |  photo editor
Siva Ori Polynesian group performing a traditional cultural dance. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photo editor

“I’m grateful for this community and for learning more about other Asians,” Iluzada said. “I have much to learn myself.”

Iluzada and Navarre shared aspirations for prosperity in Waco this year, both community-wise and monetarily. The FSA received a $2 bill, which is customary for the holiday, as traditional red envelopes are the receptacles for monetary gifts. Whalen also got something more valuable than money – a relationship.

“I think what I like the most is actually finding out that there are more Filipinos in Waco,” Whalen said. “Being able to connect with some of the Filipino community and other Asian-Americans, it’s kind of like, ‘Wow,’ I didn’t know there was so much representation in
Waco itself.

When Navarre was asked what she was most looking forward to at the event, her immediate response was seeing people’s smiles.

“There will always be a seat at the table,” Navara said. “We’re very welcoming of that, opening up the diversity and just celebrating with everybody else, no matter who they are.”

An elderly man drums in front of a food truck.  Kenneth Prabhakar |  photo editor
An elderly man drums in front of a food truck. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photo editor