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Irvine Korean Cultural Festival Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Cultural festivals are a core ingredient of this nation’s identity. For those who embrace the reality that the United States is comprised of a melting pot of varying cultural traditions and people of all ethnicities, these festivals provide opportunities to understand the distinctions and similarities between people from different backgrounds. Naturally, cultural celebrations also allow people to embrace their own traditions by reminding them of the experiences that make their own heritage unique. On Saturday, May 11, the Irvine Korean Cultural Festival will celebrate its 10-year anniversary.

Photo courtesy of Irvine Korean Cultural Festival Committee

The festival will be held at the Irvine Civic Center; there is no charge for admittance, and the event promises to be an enchanting experience for attendees of all ages. In advance of this festival, Irvine Weekly reached out to the Irvine Korean Cultural Festival Committee to learn about the festival’s history, how it has grown in its 10 years, and what guests can expect to see there. As the event did not have an organizational spokesperson on hand, event promoter Bo Ram Lee forwarded our questions to the festival committee, which was good enough to collectively enlighten us.

Photo courtesy of Irvine Korean Cultural Festival Committee

The Irvine Korean Cultural Festival was founded in 2010 as a way to educate the public about Korean culture and to commemorate a historical event. “On January 13, 1903,102 pioneer immigrants arrived in Hawaii from Korea to work in the sugar cane plan­tations,” the committee pointed out. “In 2003, the United States House of Representatives and the Senate declared that landmark day ‘Korean American Day.’ Following suit, the city of Irvine, permanently recog­nized January 13 as ‘Korean American Day.’ ” Though the festival is not held on January 13, that date of recognition is a principal impetus for this occasion.

The festival has expanded over the years as a result of increased attendance. “Every year the number of attendees and sponsors [has] increased,” the committee told us, “so we [have been] able to elevate the quality of performances and cultural showcases. Physically, the event was held only in the piazza of Irvine Civic Center, but now [it] has extended to [the] parking lot and the front lawn.”

Attendees can expect to experience a wide range of traditions, games and entertainment. As far as specific traditions that are rooted in Korean culture, the committee responded, “Families can immerse themselves in Korean culture by participating in hands-on activities with Korean folk art coloring, Korean gift wrapping using traditional Bojagi, fortune pouch sewing and Korean Calligraphy demonstrations, among others … [including a] Korean ceramic art exhibition, [and] kimchi-making and traditional tea ceremony demonstrations.” Other exhibitions that will be on display at the festival include a hanbok (Korean traditional dress) fashion show.

Photo courtesy of Irvine Korean Cultural Festival Committee

Among the more kinetic aspects of the festival, there will be demonstrations of traditional drumming, taekwondo, a traditional string orchestra, a performance by a traditional fan dance team, a Korean traditional dance workshop (featuring the sogo [little drum] dance and the scarf dance), and — just to cover more modern traditions — there will also be K-pop dance performances.

The breakdown of the unique cultural demonstrations, according to the committee, is about 80 percent traditional Korean customs and 20 percent modern Korean customs. The committee added that additional fun activities include: “Human foosball and mini-truck (sponsored by Waste Management); inflated bounce houses, and other children’s area activities, where guests can play Korean chess, Korean hacky sack, and more.”

Photo courtesy of Irvine Korean Cultural Festival Committee

The event has yielded very solid attendance numbers in the past, and it is expected to continue along this trend for the 10-year anniversary. The committee pointed out that according to a census report, there are approximately 25,000 people of Korean descent who currently reside in Irvine. In terms of festival attendance, in general, they said, “About 10,000 visited the festival and enjoyed our various programs with friends and family last year even though it rained. We are expecting over 15,000 this year to celebrate and enjoy together our 10th year.”

The guests and vendors who will have a presence at the festival come from both near and far. “Performers come from NorCal, out-of-state and from Korea,” the committee informed us. They added, “[Guests come] from Southern California, [and vendors — which will include Korean food vendors — come from] all over the U.S.”

Folks wishing to enrich their understanding and appreciation of another people’s cultural traditions — traditions which are still honored and practiced by a significant percentage of Irvine’s community members — are encouraged to treat themselves to this experience. Given the presence of Korean visual arts, music, entertainment, games and culinary delights, there will certainly be plenty on display to impress and engage guests.  

For more information on the Irvine Korean Cultural Festival, visit their website: http://irvinekoreanfestival.com/