Even with 7,000 miles in between the Land of the Morning Calm and Houston, Korea still graced Houstonians on Oct. 17 in the form of the 2015 Korean Festival held at Discovery Green park.
“Now in its seventh year, it appears we have a piece of Korea in the heart of Downtown Houston,” Baik Joohyeon, the Consul General of the Republic of Korea in Houston, said. “I’m especially delighted to share with you Korea’s rich traditions and vibrant culture through our food, art, activities, exhibits and entertainment present today.”
Following Joohyeon’s opening statements were musical performances, including the percussion-centric Farmers’ Dance, the hanbok-wearing kids of KORUS and women of the Innisfree Chorale, the performers from Kim Kuja School of Dance and students from the Hwarang Tigers Taekwondo School.
The night showcased the modern side of Korea with performances from beatboxer/singer KRNFX, and Maribel Rubio with local band 512 Sound.
Tommy Chanthavong and other members from the Hallyu Club at the University of Houston volunteered at the festival. The Club holds their meetings every second Tuesday of the month in the Astrodome Room from 5-7 p.m.
“’Hallyu’ (means) the entertainment industry in Korea,” said Chanthavong, the club’s president. “The Korean Festival here ties back to our Korean culture and we’re trying to promote that.”
Within visitors’ reach were popular foods such as kalbi (barbecued beef short ribs), bibimbap (mixed rice), toppoki (rice stick), shaved ice and more. Instead of dollars, eateries at the Festival took “KASH,” or red tickets that could be bought at different tents.
The Houston Korean Education Center tent drew in a myriad of visitors, and was a place where attendees could try out their calligraphy skills and have their names turned into Korean characters.
“I didn’t expect this many people (would) enjoy calligraphy,” said Geunhye Kim, the Center’s director. “The Korean (language) can express every sound so every participant can see how their English names (get) translated into Korean. It’s very easy.”
Politics also have a place amidst the food and music, as proven by a tent with the banner “Exhibition for Peaceful Reunification of Korea.” Here, personnel from the National Unification Advisory Council used art to showcase the harshness of North Korea’s regime and asked for attendees’ signatures to support a bill that will further strengthen the financial sanctions on the communist country.
“It’s an issue of human rights,” said Erik Kim, the Council’s general secretary. “We live in the most diverse city in the U.S. We should support the people living in other parts of the world that don’t get the luck like we’re enjoying. South Korea Constitution supports any North Korean defectors and refugees as of now. Once (both Koreas) reunite, we won’t have this issue anymore.”
Kim added that the Council wanted to get 2,000 signatures by the Festival’s end and sent them to Senators Cruz and Cornyn.
“I think we already got a couple hundred signatures,” Kim said.
The festival also had a time for handing out scholarships for high school seniors and college students.
“We open applications every year,” said Benjamin Shin, president of the Korean-American Society of Houston (KASH) and co-director of the festival. “This year we actually increased our budget to $4,500. We have three recipients, $1,500 each.”
Shin noticed a substantial growth in the number of guests, vendors and volunteers at this year’s festival. He appreciated their support in reinforcing the purpose of KASH’s flagship event.
“One of KASH’s mission statements is to bridge the cultural gap between the first and second-generations of Korean-Americans,” Shin said. “It’s not just happening to Korean Americans but across the board. We start (KASH) to show them we’ve adapted to the way we think about things, but we haven’t forgotten who we are.”
Shin felt optimistic about what lies ahead for the Korean Festival.
“(This was) the best festival yet,” Shin said. “And it will continue, I hope.”