Guam may be a small island, but it seems to have an enormous fan club in Tacoma.
That could be one reason why people were jammed shoulder to shoulder inside the Tacoma Dome exhibition hall Saturday for the 19th Annual Asia Pacific New Year Celebration.
The standing room only crowds might also have been there to make Thai handicrafts, watch a Pacific Islander dance group from Federal Way High School, or load up on Korean bibimbap and Hawaiian doughnuts (plain or cream filled).
Guam was the featured culture at this year’s event, which saw six hours of cultural entertainment and presentations from Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Samoa, China, Cambodia and others.
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Presented by the Asia Pacific Cultural Center of Tacoma, the event drew an estimated 10,000 people, according to president and founder Patsy Surh O’Connell. At 1 p.m., parking lots were full and there was still a long line to get inside.
Gina Kono, marketing manager with the Guam Visitors Bureau, was one of six people who came from the 220-square mile island for the event.
Kono was handing out colorful pamphlets about Guam and persuading people to take their next vacation to the island, a U.S. territory.
The No. 1 target on her visitor list were Chamorro (people of the Mariana Islands) living in the U.S.
“Some of them have never gone home,” Kono said. “They do want to come back because they’ve heard so many things from their parents and relatives.”
The biggest stumbling block: The trip home is long and expensive.
The island, with two large U.S. military bases, is a popular vacation spot. Just not with Americans.
Guam with its tropical beaches, marine preserves, snorkeling and other attractions gets most of its visitors from nearby Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, Kono said.
“It’s summer all year round,” she explained as a Chamorro dance group put on a cultural show nearby.
During the event’s opening, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., reminded the audience of the strong ties formed during World War II between Guam and the mainland U.S.
“71 years ago, we sacrificed and bled together to take back an occupied Guam,” Kilmer said. Since then, Guamanians have made deep and lasting contributions to the fabric of America, he said.
“I’m grateful that many of those people call the City of Destiny their home,” Kilmer said. “You are welcomed here, you make our community stronger.”
Guamanians are U.S. citizens by birth, but most of the speeches given in the opening, including Kilmer’s, had a decidedly pro-immigrant viewpoint.
“We are going to stand up for immigrants and their families regardless of where they come from,” Kilmer said. “We are not going to turn people away who are fleeing violence and persecution.”
Aside from politics, food booths and hands-on craft-making were popular with the overflow crowd.
Sue Hall and other women from the Korean Buddhist Seu Mi Sa Temple were teaching children and adults how to make lotus lanterns.
The lanterns are traditionally made for the Buddha’s birthday, Hall said.
Because the lotus blossom springs forth from the muddy bottom of a pond, it can be an analogy for life, Hall said.
“Something beautiful can come from dirty muck,” she said.
Lantern makers used a flour paste to attach pink paper petals and green leaves to paper cups.
“We’re usually here until we run out of supplies,” Hall said.
Given the people waiting for their turn, that was a virtual certainty Saturday.