How a 3-year-old inspired the new Grand Rapids Asian Festival by Mark Tower, Originally published on Mar. 28, 2017. Ace Marasigan remembers feeling the weight of being different from those around him.  Born in the Philippines, Marasigan moved to the United States at the age of 16.  "There were only maybe seven other Asians in my school," he said.  Though he has lived here for 24 years and is now a U.S. citizen, Marasigan still sometimes feels that weight. It's something he hopes to minimize, or even eliminate, for his 3-year-old son, Redd.  "I just want him to feel like he can  be himself," Marasigan said.  To that end, he is leading planning  efforts for the inaugural Grand Rapids Asian Festival this summer. It will  celebrate the nearly 18,000 Asian  residents of Kent County and  the many cultures of the  Earth's largest and most  populous continent. "It just raises the awareness of the community," Marasigan said. "We just want to have a place where we can be celebrated."  The festival will run from 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 10, at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.  In it's first year, organizers are offering free admission to the festival. It will feature Asian food, arts, music, demonstrations and workshops.  As his son grew, Marasigan began thinking about ways he could make Asian cultures         more prominent in his community.            He noted that West Michigan                  already has festivals devoted to                            Polish, Hispanic, Greek, Irish, Dutch and German cultures.
continued:  "But there's no festivals for Asians," That passion can be seen in the growth of numerous sponsors and donors signing on to help local nonprofit West Michigan Asian American Association raise money for the festival. Marasigan said he has been surprised by the level of support for his idea.  "The interest level has just grown exponentially," he said.  The event's schedule also calls for a karaoke contest, live music, a cultural fashion show and "D.J. Marasigan" mixing Asian dance music to end the festival. Participating restaurants will serve food from their regular menus as well as exclusive festival-only items.  A beer tent will sell both local and Asian beers, and an interactive children's area is planned as well. The event's Facebook page promises "it will be a melting pot of everything Asian." Marasigan said. "The Asian community at large, those who I've talked to, they all express the same thing. We've always wanted a platform but we've never had it."  Though some Asian-Americans are immigrants, others of Asian heritage have lived their entire life in the United States. Despite that fact, Marasigan said, Asians are still all too often viewed as foreigners.  At the same time, he said he has experienced a strong desire among the Grand Rapids community to better understand and appreciate the cultural differences that make up the fabric of the city.  "I feel like there's a passion, and a need, for people to understand other cultures," Marasigan said.
continued: Organizers hope those gathered at the festival will help them make 1,000 origami cranes, which will be strung together and donated to the Children's Assessment Center, an organized that works with victims of child sexual abuse.  An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted a wish. Other stories promise good luck, a long life or recovery from illness or injury.  In addition to creating a friendly environment to locals with a heritage from such diverse cultures as India, the Philippines, Korea, China, Thailand, Bangladesh, Japan and Vietnam, Marasigan also hopes the festival can serve as an educational and outreach effort to the Grand Rapids community as a whole. "Our idea is to bring non-Asians here to this festival, to educate them and show them a bit of all the different cultures," he said. "Something to bring us together."  Marisagan said he hopes he is creating a legacy that, by the time little Redd is a teenager, will make it easier for his son to be an Asian-American in West Michigan.  "I want him to be proud of it," he said. This story is brought to you by the Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Foundation  Join our community at