It’s pretty clear we love Thurston County, but during the last two years we’ve come to miss international travel as well. Ensconced in our homes, we’ve been isolated from each other, let alone the rest of the world. All of that’s about to change, thanks to the effectiveness of COVID vaccines and the return of events like Lacey’s Cultural Celebration, which returns to Saint Martin’s University this month after two years found solely online.
“As we were gearing up for the Cultural Celebration, on March 10, 2020,” recalls Jeannette Sieler, recreation supervisor for Lacey Parks, Culture & Recreation, “we started hearing what was going on with COVID. We had performers calling and saying they weren’t going to be able to perform, vendors calling: ‘We’re not comfortable. We’re coming from Seattle.’ … So a decision was made two days out to go ahead and cancel for 2020, and it was what, I think a week later that we were all sent home and stuck working from home? Last year we were able to do the event virtually, and it was an online event where people could log on and watch the different things. They could shop with our vendors, and we had about 2,800 folks log in over the month the event was open, including people from several other countries.”
That was 2021. This year, however, the event will be held virtually and in real space, namely Saint Martin’s University as it was in the Before Times. It’ll include over a dozen commercial and arts-and-crafts vendors, 10 international cuisines, 15 informational kiosks and 11 live-performance acts. Thanks to recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Gov. Inslee, no masks will be required at the event, “but obviously,” Sieler adds, “people are certainly welcome to wear their masks if they choose.”
Sieler expects the festival to bounce back as if it had never gone online. “Honestly,” she says, “I feel like our attendance is gonna be huge. Our average attendance each year is around three thousand, but I think people are anxious to get back out there and doing things. So I keep telling my vendors to gear up for a lot of traffic.” For those who feel uncomfortable attending in person, the virtual component will still be offered as well. “We’ll be livestreaming throughout the day, all the performers, which will then go on an on-demand website after March 12.”
Those performers include Japanese percussionists River Ridge Taiko Ensemble to wake the crowd at 10:15 a.m.; Haley Prendergast School of Irish Dance at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.; Olympia Highlanders Bagpipes and Drum Corps at noon; Siam Olympia Dancers, Bonglang Ruam Jai and Chaopraya Ensemble from Thailand in the 12:30 hour; Alaska Kuteeyaa Dancers representing the Tlingit people at 1:30; Okinawan dance and drums by OKK Chijinshuu of Washington State at 2:30; a hands-on taiko drum demonstration at 3; and Middle Eastern dance from Mas Uda at 3:30 and Troupe Rashaad at 4:30. “All of these are rooted in western Washington,” explains Sieler. “If not in the Olympia-Lacey area, they’re coming from big Seattle.” In addition, three Kahoot! breaks will offer guests a chance to win prizes for their trivia knowledge.
Of course, there’ll be plenty of international cuisine to excite, please and challenge every palate. Bulgogi Hustle, for example, is about to celebrate its first anniversary serving delicious Korean barbecue bowls in Lacey. Other food trucks and vendors include Bangladeshi cuisine from ASHHO Cultural Community Center, Asian-style Character Cotton Candy, Mexican street food from Cinco de Mayo Raspados Fruits and More, Philippine- and Vietnamese-style Egg Roll Hut, Lava Bowlz LLC with Hawaiian açaí, Paella Pro LLC, German-style kettle corn from The Old Red Barn Popping Co. and Korean pancakes (pajeon) from the Seattle-Washington State Korean Association. Then there’s Funnel of Love, which offers a Dutch twist on standard fair-style funnel cakes: “They’re not just flat like an elephant ear,” notes Sieler, “They’re woven together with the dough when she creates them, and then tops them with strawberries and stuff, and whipped cream, which — y’know — ya gotta have.”
The festival offers school-aged attendees mock passports to complete as they circle the event. “They get stamps in their books,” Sieler explains, “and when they’re ready to go, they come by the information booth with their books and they get a prize for participating. So it’s a fun way to get the kids engaged (with) the idea of traveling the world, and we always ask them, ‘OK, so what did you learn new today?’ … We have little globe backpacks and coloring things and a couple of different items that they can choose from to take home.”
Lacey’s Cultural Celebration is back, so bon voyage, intercultural travelers!
Photo credits: Lacey Parks, Culture & Recreation.
Lacey’s Cultural Celebration
10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday, March 12
Saint Martin’s University,
5300 Pacific Ave. SE, Lacey