Joan May Cordova and Kathy Shimizu (ACG ’09) share photographs and block prints documenting Chinatown’s Mid-Autumn Festival, a vital celebration of culture and community. Initiated and produced by Asian Americans United (AAU) for 15 years, Mid-Autumn Festival has been a resource for sustaining community this last remaining community of color in Philadelphia’s center city, and for pushing back against predatory development schemes. Organized as part of a series of events celebrating AAU’s 25th anniversary. The exhibition will be open through September 30, 2010, on Tuesdays and Thursday from 10 AM – 6 PM and by appointment, it is free to the public. The Philadelphia Folklore Project is located at 735 South 50th Street
Asian American United (AAU) has organized Mid-Autumn Festival in Philadelphia’s Chinatown for fifteen years. A traditional harvest festival celebrated in China and Vietnam for more than 3,000 years, the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival had largely dropped out of the community calendar locally – - despite its historic importance as a celebration. In 1995, immigrant youth working with AAU described their elders’ deep homesickness for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Hoping to ease the struggles of elders, reclaim valued traditions, and bring together a community long impacted by predatory development schemes, AAU organized a first Mid-Autumn Festival. Four hundred people gathered at that first celebration in the Holy Redeemer Church parking lot, and a Chinatown tradition began. Fifteen years later, 130 youth and community members work with AAU to stage an event that draws more than 5,000 people to three blocks of 10th Street for daylong cultural performances by local artists, arts and craft s activities, carnival games, and a riotously enjoyable moon-cake eating contest. Now an entire generation of youth has grown up believing that there has always been a Mid-Autumn Festival in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. They’ve created their own memories and forged links to ancestral traditions and homelands. Artists have found a place to share valued traditions. Families gather, and the process of making the festival every year has strengthened the community in many ways.
AAU co-founder Debbie Wei writes that “AAU has always seen arts and cultural work as a fundamental means for creating social change in our communities. Folk arts in particular can be a catalyst for social change with a power that unites the political fight for social justice with a profound cultural thread which speaks to the heart and the spirit.” Best known for its spirited and principled defense of Asian American community rights in many domains, AAU has found in Mid-Autumn Festival a joyful means of bringing people together and celebrating cultural traditions that resonate deeply.
This exhibit of block prints and photographs of recent Mid-Autumn Festivals by AAU members Kathy Shimizu and Joan May Cordova is the first event celebrating AAU’s 25th anniversary. A work in progress, the show will be the basis for other, larger, documentation of this significant community event. Excerpts of quotes included here were drawn from gatherings of AAU members, who reflected on the meanings the celebration holds.
PFP’s Home Place series is supported by The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, through the Heritage Philadelphia Program, the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. Shimizu and Cordova were supported by a grant from the Leeway Foundation.
PNC Arts Alive also supports the Home Place project.
The Philadelphia Folklore Project is a 23-year-old public interest folklife organization committed to sustaining the alternative and progressive folk and traditional arts of our communities. For more information visit our website: folkloreproject.org or call 215.726.1106.