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22 years after debut, Tulsa’s Asian American Festival going strong

A long-running event celebrating Asian culture is expanding in Tulsa.

More than two decades after the first Asian American Festival, the annual gathering now has offerings throughout May.

The inaugural festival in 2003 was a one-day affair at Martin Regional Library at 26th Street and Garnett. Now, participants can enjoy things like tai chi, a community resource fair, Korean-language classes and a K-Pop festival, happening at various Tulsa City-County Library branches.

Throughout the decades, its goal has remained the same: to recognize Oklahoma's Asian inhabitants.

“We want to celebrate Asian Americans in the Tulsa area and in Oklahoma and in general — what they've contributed to our state and what they’re doing now,” says Rebecca McWilliams, this year’s festival chair.

According to Mayor G.T. Bynum, the Asian-American community in Tulsa has grown over 50% in the past decade. The city formed an Asian Affairs Commission last fall to focus on development and to advise city officials on matters relating to Tulsa's Asian community.

McWilliams is also TCCL’s Oklahoma history librarian. She noticed that there is very little written about Asian culture in Oklahoma. She hopes the festival will make the Asian-Oklahoman experience more visible.

“It would be nice to have more written about [Asian culture in the state] that we can keep for Oklahoma history,” McWilliams says. “And this is just one of the ways to do that — to be like ‘they're here and they've got wonderful cultures.’”

McWilliams says many of the programs are possible because of the help of librarians at different branches and partnerships in Tulsa and with the state.

Since the beginning, the Asian American Festival has featured a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, led by Japan-native Yumie Farringer. She will demonstrate the centuries-old ritual on May 11 at Martin Regional Library.

“It’s about respect for people,” Farringer says. “That’s why there is very careful handling of the items. When you turn the cup when serving it to the guest, you are turning it very precisely to show the front side.”

Also at Martin Regional Library, the annual Kyoto-Oklahoma student art exchange will be on display. Each year, students from Tulsa and Kyoto trade work depicting something from their everyday life.

“It's really, really interesting,” McWilliams says. “It’s fun [to see] from year to year how things kind of change with new generations.”

Other Asian American Festival programs include Studio Ghibli fest, traditional Korean games, a Bollywood dance workshop and adult book discussion groups. Visit Tulsa City-County Library’s website for more information.

Julianne joined Public Radio Tulsa in June 2022 as Development Associate. She wear many hats at the station — connecting with listeners, writing PRT's newsletters, planning events and doing digital behind-the-scenes.