Educators and families join forces for Cambridge-Somerville Asian Festival


Photo: Jennifer Suryadjaja

Families came out for the two day heritage celebration, where they were able to participate in arts and craft and watch live cultural performances.

Jennifer Suryadjaja, Reporter

Tucked away underneath the shades of the outdoor pavilion at Somerville’s CALA condominium complex, organizers from Cambridge Families of Asian Descent, Pan Asian Club, Asian Educators Resource Groups, as well as Somerville Asian and Asian American Family Network wore bright aqua T-shirts with the Cambridge Somerville Asian Festival logo.

One of them was Krystal Gratta, an event organizer with Somerville Asian and Asian American Family Network. Gratta and her co-organizers have been planning the event since March, starting by acquiring a community-based equity grant from Cambridge Public Schools.

Gratta said the two-day-long festival, hosted last Friday and Saturday, was centered around art as education and representation.

“We wanted to center voice, so [students] brought up the idea of art and centering how art can be so expressive and uplifting, and so we went in that direction…to think about artistic expression through different representations. I think art is a good catalyst for change. I think that we’re all artists … that’s why art is so relatable,” Gratta told The Scope.

On Friday evening, Taiwanese-American artist and educator Shaina Lu and Nepali artist Sneha Shrestha, whose stage name is Imagine, were stars of the program. Lu led a zine-making workshop while Shrestha hosted a live mural installation at CALA. Event organizers also featured family-friendly educational art activities centered on Asian identity and culture. 

The festival carried over to Saturday at Cambridge’s Starlight Square. The day was filled with dance and cultural performances by local artists, including the Aftab Dance GroupBoston Cendrawasih and a poetry reading by David Xiang and Alisha Yi. Attendees also met with State Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven of District 27, Cambridge City Councilor Burhan Azeem and activist Bethany Li. 

Jenny Chung, a fellow organizer with Cambridge Families of Asian Descent and Asian Educators Resource Groups, said she was most looking forward to having her son see AAPI artists.

“I have a five-year-old, and we walk by Sneha’s murals all the time in Cambridge. I’m really excited for him to meet the artists. I’m excited for him to see a lot of people who look like him in space,” Chung said. 

Gratta said the organizers wanted to ensure the representation of AAPI communities branched beyond stereotypes.

“The AAPI community is very diverse. There’s just so many different cultures and heritages, and we really wanted to showcase a variety. That was our starting point …we didn’t want to fall into a more visible, monolithic representation that you see for the Asian community. Our objective was trying to show a variety of talents,” Gratta said.

Chung said the planning process was highly intentional among organizers. At the core, it was aimed to bring students, educators and families together.

“When we look at just national events and just history, there’s often [a question about] ‘where’s our place’ because sometimes conversations can be very black and white. Increasing the visibility of our voice is something that I think a lot about, even as an educator in the system and as a parent. We have a very diverse community, but sometimes ensuring that we are seen and heard is important,” Chung said.

For Shaina Lu, events and festivals merely scratch the surface of Asian representation. She said there’s more that cities like Boston, Cambridge and Somerville can do to uplift the AAPI community outside of hosting events. 

“I would hope to see across the board from towns or districts to see more thought to addressing systemic issues that affect AAPI [individuals] and families,” Lu said.

Aside from teaching, Lu is currently working on graphic novels and children’s books based on her experience and identity. Being in publishing has pushed Lu to think critically about sharing more diverse stories. 

“I think there’s a lot of value in [writing] because you’re drawing from something that you really lived and understand, and that way, the stories that you’re telling, only you can tell those stories,” Lu said.

Gratta said attendees being part of the festival serves as a starting point for more initiatives in the future. 

“I’m really excited for the children in the community to come together. Regardless of whether they don’t identify as Asian or Pacific Islander…just their presence and engaging with the AAPI community [means] showing love and showing up and wanting to uplift voices that are not always heard,” Gratta said. 



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