Racers in Dragon Boat Festival bring Southeast Asian culture to Penn’s Landing.
PECO ended its summer-long multicultural series Sept. 10 by hosting the Southeast Asian Dragon Boat Festival at Penn’s Landing.
The Southeast Asia Dragon Boat committee paid homage to the traditional water festival by holding the first dragon boat race on the Delaware River.
“Since we celebrate a festival overseas each year, we wanted to spread awareness about our culture in America,” SEADB committee member Sitha Puth said.
Puth said that for more than 10 years, there has been a dragon boat festival in Lowell, Mass., which attracts people from all over the East Coast. They chose Philadelphia to host a new festival because it has “a better venue,” and is a closer proximity for most visitors.
A water festival is the Southeast Asian version of New Year’s that salutes the water gods for irrigating the rice fields. The dragon boat races honor the ancient tradition of using dragon boats for nautical activities.
While most paddlers were stepping into the boat for the first time, participant Connie Hang was born into it.
“My family has a rich history of dragon boat racing,” Hang said. “My uncle has been competing for years with Man United. I volunteered today to show people how Cambodians value their culture.”
Twelve local corporations sponsored teams to compete in three rounds for the grand-prize trophy. However, to many paddlers, the race meant more than winning and losing.
“Today was my first time in a dragon boat,” Man United team member Chan Lam said. “I went to high school with the captain of our team and he recruited me to paddle. We gave it our best out there because everybody was in good spirits.”
Despite none of its members having any dragon boat experience, the Sugar House Casino Sugar Dragons team gambled its chances in order to strum up some good will.
“This is a great event to get involved with the community,” Sugar Dragon member Tiara Thornton said. “With our one year anniversary approaching next week, we thought this would be a fun way to celebrate and meet different people.”
Thuiy Tran designed the emblem that adorned each team’s shirts.
“Since this is my first dragon boat race, I wanted to contribute in a big way,” Tran said. “Although I am racing for Spring Garden, the emblem honors the heritage of all Southeast Asians.”
Although Bare Soumgit has lived in America for eight years, walking through the festival made him feel back at home in Cambodia.
“The United States and Cambodia are totally different,” Soumgit said. “The Southeast Asian people are more conditional. Although this event is not as lengthy as our three-day December festival, it is nice seeing the activities here.”
In addition to the racing, the festival featured food, games and live entertainment. Traditional Asian cuisine such as teriyaki chicken, palau and lo mein noodles were served to the delight of visitors.
“I came to eat and see the Kalmar Nyckel,” Jay Stuart, an attendee, said. “It is a replica of the Swedish ship that was the first to settle the Delaware area. I’ll come back next year because at least it is something to do in September.”
Sovan Sao tasted defeat in a mixed martial arts demonstration on the stage.
“I volunteered to perform Cambodian kickboxing today in order to resurrect a dying art,” Sao said. “Kickboxing has been passed down through generations of Cambodians, but our nation’s genocide severely damaged the growth of the sport. Hopefully, this exhibition will help bring back interest.”
The festival wrapped up with a series of musical performances, which ranged from rapping and interpretative dance, to a Three Doors Down cover band performing “Here Without You” and “Kryptonite.”
Conveniently, Sept. 10 was also Pennsylvania Coast Day, so vendors were organized with crafts, face painting and Baggo for some family fun.
“Most people forget that Pennsylvania is a coastline,” said Jennifer Adkins, a Partnership for the Delaware Estuary member. “Pennsylvania contributes to the fishing, environmental and water regulation industries. We are promoting support of our ecosystem.”
Once the crowd started filing out, Puth wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“The goal was to blend cultures since America is the great melting pot,” Puth said. “I believe we achieved our goal.”
John Corrigan can be reached at email@example.com.