PACIFIC GROVE >> For many in the Asian-American community, it’s time to turn off the lights at the annual Pacific Grove Lantern Festival, an event that has become politically charged due to what many call cultural appropriation of Chinese culture.
It is already at risk of losing financial support from the City of Pacific Grove, as elected officials will decide Feb. 16 on a list of special events recommended for financial support in the 2022-23 fiscal year. The Lantern Festival is not on the list.
The City of Pacific Grove has supported the event with contributions from police, fire, ambulance and public works for years. This year, the cost of the event to the city would have been around $29,450, according to city documents.
A petition has been started on Change.org asking for the event to be canceled permanently. On Friday, it had more than 300 signatures.
Pacific Grove Councilwoman Jenny McAdams said Friday that not including her in the list of special events doesn’t go far enough. She wants an apology from both the city and the nonprofit Lantern Festival board, saying it would be “more meaningful” if the city and board issued a joint apology.
“The council had ample time to listen to the community and they failed to do so,” McAdams said. “This problem extends beyond the boundaries of Pacific Grove. There has been a strong message that it is not acceptable to paint white women yellow. We have evolved. It’s time to move on, accept responsibility and make amends.
Christine Gruber, one of the Lantern Festival board leaders, said on Friday that the event is progressing, noting that today’s board is different from that of yesteryear. Feast of Lanterns has new costumes and is a love story, she said.
“We are working on a new plan,” Gruber said. “We hope people who enjoy the Lantern Festival will write or email the City Council to show their support. We can do better than stop the celebration.
The traditional story behind the Lantern Festival is in itself a farce, said Michael Ipson, a Monterey Peninsula resident who earned a master’s degree in East Asian studies from Stanford University and held a doctorate. . candidate and lecturer at Harvard University. He met his wife, Gloria, from China, when they were both attending the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She taught Cantonese at the Defense Language Institute.
The piece is based on a story concocted by a British company as a way to sell their plates, he said.
Calling it a depiction of “oppression and cruelty”, Ipson said it was a classic example of cultural appropriation – the inappropriate or unacknowledged adoption of an element of a culture or from one identity to another.
“They’re good people, but they don’t understand how deep it cuts,” Ipson said.
Kathy Biala, Japanese-American and acting mayor of Marina, said she had a “visceral reaction” when she saw Chinese costumes on white women. It’s through this kind of ownership that a growing number of Asian Americans feel empowered to speak out, she said.
“The Lantern Festival is an event with a racist core,” Biala said. “They paid lip service to the idea of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
A call made to the Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce was not immediately returned on Friday.
Chaps Poduri, a Pacific Grove councilman and a member of the McAdams-led diversity, equity and inclusion task force, said Friday that this type of issue is important because it raises awareness for everyone in a community.
The task force did not recommend ending the Lantern Festival, primarily because it has yet to hear from the board about any changes it plans to make.
“I hope something like this is a trigger point to come together as a community,” Poduri said.
Randy Sabado agrees with Biala. The husband of the late Gerry Low-Sabado, whose ancestors lived in the Chinese village that burned down in 1906, said his wife had approached the Lantern Festival council for years.
“They didn’t have the decency to answer; they just sat there giving polite nods,” Sabado said.
Gerry Low-Sabado passed away in September 2021.
Klarity Cole, whose family has been an integral part of the Lantern Festival since 1985 and who served three terms as Lantern Festival Board Chair from 2017, had been Queen and Princess of the Lantern Festival.
“I was a cheerleader for the event, but now I’m pleading for it to be stopped,” Cole said. “The board members just didn’t want to talk about it. I chose to leave because I knew the change that needed to happen would not happen. Pacific Grove’s culture is resilient. It will take a lot of votes.
Another way to honor Chinese heritage in Pacific Grove is the Walk of Remembrance, Randy Sabado said. The brainchild of former Pacific Grove Mayor Carmelita Garcia, who worked with Gerry-Low Sabado to organize the event, the walk takes place annually on May 14.
It begins at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History and the Monterey Bay Lion Dance Team leads the one-mile march to Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, the historic site of the destroyed Chinese Village. This year, two Stanford history experts will discuss the intricacies of the village’s history.