A bed of pale lotus flowers break through the surface of the lake water at Echo Park. As a symbol of unification and purity, the lotus flowers bring a presence of light to the murky waters.
“They start coming up in March as little sticks out of the water and eventually they start to bloom and these huge beautiful flowers come up. It’s just so inspiring to see,” City of Los Angeles Recreation Supervisor Laura Island said.
So inspiring, in fact, that Los Angeles built a festival around them.
This past weekend, the fully bloomed lotus flowers welcomed the 36th annual Lotus Festival at Echo Park. In the midst of national rampage and heart wrenching events, the Lotus Festival offered two full days of pure celebration and cultural unity.
The Lotus Festival was first assembled in 1972 after a UCLA focus group voiced an interest in spreading awareness of the Asian Pacific Islander community in Los Angeles through an art and culture show. The initial event with 500 people in attendance quickly grew into a giant festival hosting over a hundred thousand people that resident Angelenos would come to expect annually, each year highlighting one Asian culture in specific.
On July 9 and 10, the Lotus Festival represented the Republic of Korea. From displaying Korean traditional dances to an array of Korean food trucks, booths selling various Korean products and a dragon boat race, festival attendees had an opportunity to get a taste of Korean culture in Los Angeles.
From start to finish, entertainment pervaded the festival. The main stage held performances, hosting Buddhist monks and Korean dignitaries as well as bands who covered popular albums in between, blasting music throughout the park grounds.
“You’re at any part of the festival and you can hear it in the background. If you’re right in front of the stage, you can right dance there,” Island said of the festival’s engaging ambience.
Community booths filled the park grounds as well, where festival attendees could peruse boutique sections and products from Asia. Food trucks also offered a range of Korean, Thai and Latin fusion foods, while playgrounds and bouncy houses contributed to a family friendly atmosphere.
L.A. Lotus Festival Inc. President Leo Pandac expressed the effort it takes to bring the festival to life each year.
“Getting the festival to come to fruition requires a lot of attention. Starting in August, our committee plans all year round for the next year’s festival. A volunteer group is put in charge of the different festival aspects from the entertainment to the dragon boat races to our collaboration with the Department of Recreation and Parks, the L.A. Parks Foundation and L.A. Healthcare, etc.,” Pandac said.
Many community offices were represented in booths, including newly elected Councilmember David Ryu whose staffers distributed information to the public during the festival.
“It was perfect timing that the first Korean American councilmember in Los Angeles was elected in time for the Lotus Festival this year. It’s been a great event to get the community to come together,” City Hall Planning Deputy Julia Duncan said.
Non-profit organizations also hosted booths throughout the festival grounds.
Maryanne Hayashi has been the Executive Director of the Central City Action Community for 56 years, selling leis at a booth with her students. But mostly she was there to have fun.
“I’m 81-years-old. If I’m not having fun at this point, I don’t know what I’m doing,” Hayashi joked.
Local city offices and non profit organizations, including the Mayor’s office, the Korean American Coalition (KAC) and the LAPD, took to have fun racing dragon boats in the Echo Park Lake. In teams of eight, each boat contained a drummer and steerer at the ends and six rowers in between. At the shot of a gun, the organizations raced two at a time across the lake and back, competing for the fastest time.
“Dragon boat racing necessitates constant communication, careful coordination, and effortless teamwork. Although we weren’t the fastest team at the festival, we were undoubtedly the team that had a good time the whole way through,” Aaron Chung, a volunteer rower for KAC, said.
Many festival attendees acknowledged a great pride for the representation of Korean culture at the Lotus Festival this year.
“It was definitely a humbling experience to have Korean culture be chosen as the theme this year. Koreans have been an integral part of L.A.’s developing history, so not only did I see this exposure for Korean culture as honoring but appropriate as well,” Joshua Choi, a festival attendee and student at Crescenta Valley High School, said.
UC Riverside student Edward Kang wishes for the festival to be showing of how people can come together.
“I hope that the community of Los Angeles can assimilate the wide spectrum of cultures we have here and truly become a melting pot of these different cultures and cause a chain reaction in other cities and communities,” Kang said.
Just as lotus flowers fill the cloudy water with beauty, we are reminded of the hope that is found when communities unite to honor and validate each culture, hope that is as palpable as the persistent lotus that break through the surface of the lake to bloom yet again each year.
By Hankyul Sharon Lee