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Getting Outside the Circle

 Photos by: Jeff Tuttle
Story by: Chris Green

A Johnson County woman’s efforts have led to a growing festival that energizes 20 different groups and the broader community in a shared celebration of Asian culture.

 

Asia is a massive and diverse place. It’s the world’s largest and most populous continent, home to nearly 4.2 billion people and their many different cultures, languages, dress, dance, music and cuisines.

Carol Wei emigrated from China to the U.S in 2007 and now lives in Johnson County, a place where the Asian population has almost doubled since 2000 to nearly 25,000. It’s a growth trend that reflects changes happening across the country. According to the Pew Research Center, “Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the U.S., with Asians making up the largest share of recent immigrants.”

Hoping to spark interest in Asian culture and connect, assist and promote Asian-owned businesses in the region, Wei founded the Mid-America Asian Culture Association. She then decided to start an Asian Cultural Festival through the group to showcase all the cultures of Asia in a single place to advance her goal of cultivating “America-Asia friendship.”

 

  • Anchitha Honnur of the Nartan Academy of Classical Dances, performs an Indian dance during the festival’s dance competition.

 

Wei became involved in every aspect of organizing the festival. She worked to build support for a joint festival by making phone calls and meeting with other leaders in the Asian community and attending their events. She reached out to sponsors and sought the right venues for the festival. The association launched the Asian Cultural Festival in 2014, drawing about 2,000 attendees. Since then, festival attendance has skyrocketed.

Wei says that attendance at the 2016 event at Olathe East High School, which featured 20 Asian country organizations as participants, reached 9,000. The festival has proved popular with non-Asians and heavily draws attendees from the community at large.

Building up support for the festival has required significant leadership. Wei says that getting people from different cultures to work together comes with challenges: “One of the difficulties to work toward a common goal is that people are not used to getting outside of their one circle, their own community.”

 

But Wei, the chairwoman of the association, has found success by inspiring participation around a collective purpose – the idea that the Kansas City region’s Asian communities can better promote their cultures through working together rather than alone.

 

Her efforts to promote Asian culture in Kansas City have been well-recognized in recent years. Wei was selected as the Kansas Minority Business Advocate of the Year in 2014 by the state Department of Commerce Office of Minority & Women Business Development. In 2015, she was chosen Person of the Year by the Kansas City Chinese Association and was also named one of “50 Kansans You Should Know” by Ingram’s magazine.

 

  • Traditional dress, modeled here by Maggie Zhang and Lauren Tang.

 

Bigger goals are on the horizon. Wei says the association’s long-term goal is to build an Asian culture park that people from all over the world can visit. Through her ongoing efforts to organize the festival, Wei says she has learned that the United States is a culturally diverse place that is capable of appreciating differences even while it seeks common ground. “Americans not only preserve their own heritage but are also interested in other cultures,” Wei says.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. For a subscription to the printed edition of The Journal, visit klcjr.nl/amzsubscribe