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Memorial Day weekend brings Pride ASIA Fest to Hing Hay Park

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Dutchess Drew Nightshade — Photo by Daniel Lindsley
Dutchess Drew Nightshade — Photo by Daniel Lindsley

Celebrating its 12th anniversary this year, and just in time for national Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Pride ASIA Fest returns to Seattle's Hing Hay Park on Sunday, May 26, from noon to 4 p.m., featuring a slate of speakers and performers, informational tables from community organizations around the park, and the Chinatown International District to explore. The event is free and family oriented; all ages are welcome.

The incomparable Aleksa Manila will again be your hostess, bringing her warmth and charm like she has done ever since she founded the event in 2012. As founder and executive director of the Pride ASIA collective, she and co-director Arnaldo Inocentes (aka Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse) lead a talented and committed team to present a festival that doubles as a precursor to Pride Month in June but outside of the traditional Seattle locales.

Joining her will be two co-emcees: drag legend and former Miss Gay Washington Gaysha Starr and the reigning Miss Gay Seattle, Duchess Drew Nightshade; both will also perform. Duchess Drew, about to complete her law degree and passionate about Trans rights, will also be the keynote speaker.

The opening ceremony will showcase the Northwest Kung Fu Association, which has supported Pride ASIA Fest since its beginning with traditional martial arts, taiko drumming, and the "lion dance" to ward off bad spirits, as often seen at Lunar New Year festivals.

"They have little kids who are members, and it's always nice to see young kids embracing the cultural heritage of their family. It's so wonderful to see that, and we adore them," Manila said.

Seven special performances are also lined up, with more no doubt to be added as the event draws near: drag queen extraordinaire and hilarity incarnate, Atasha Manila; the current Mr. Community, Ceasar Hart; the current Miss Community, Delyla Dalyte; Jack of Spades from the Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle; musician, dancer, and singer Kince de Vera; the current Miss Bearded Queen of Washington State, Maya Mem Saab; and Sepanta Bahri, musician, singer, and Queer immigrant from Iran. Music will be provided by DJ Moist Towelette, an Chinese American DJ very popular around town.

That Pride ASIA Fest is held on Memorial Day weekend is significant as well. "Of course, we acknowledge Memorial Day being about our lost military servicepeople and to highlight the ones that were perhaps LGBTQ and had to serve our country in silence," Manila said.

Sharing a moment onstage together at Pride ASIA 2023 (from left) Duchess Drew Nightshade, Lu Ying, Gaysha Starr, Atasha Manila, Kince de Vera, and Aleksa Manila — Photo by Mel Ponder  

Multicultural diversity
Pride ASIA Fest was created by a group of close friends who decided it was time to make themselves known outside of the traditional Pride scene. Its mission is to celebrate, empower, and nurture the multicultural diversity of LGBTQ+ communities through the Asian-Pacific Islander (API) lens in order for people to see the true diversity of these communities.

"It's really looking at the intersectionality of our identities," Manila said. "For people like us and many other multiple-identified people, we are more than just being Queer. But we're also more than being API. It's a celebration and acknowledgment of the rich and diverse identities that many communities hold."

Manila pointed out that when people hear the word "Asia" or "Asian," they often default to Southeast Asia, thinking of people with Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Thai, or Vietnamese heritage. But Asia also includes South Asia — Pakistanis, Indians, and Sri Lankans, for example.

"We are really intentional about bringing forth members of our communities in the Pacific region — not just Hawaii but Samoa, Guam, Austronesia — and Middle East Asian countries whenever possible and safe," she said. "We recognize that there are different family ethnic traditions that might be conservative and perhaps LGBTQ+ members of their groups may not feel seen or safe, so we hope to provide them a sense of light and safety through our celebration."

Manila encourages everyone attending Pride ASIA Fest to tour the Chinatown International District, have a meal at any of the mom-and-pop restaurants, and enjoy the mix of people that join in with the celebration.

She also shared one of her fondest Pride ASIA Fest memories when her drag daughter Tanya Manila Rachinee was performing: "She was lip-syncing to a Chinese opera, and a couple of API elders who live in the neighborhood were watching us and they were just in awe. You could see their smiles, the joy in their eyes. It was joyful and positive. That's why it's essential and critical that we continue the art form of drag, whether that means lip-syncing, singing live, or even down to reading a book."

Visit https://www.PrideAsia.org to learn about Pride ASIA Fest and two more Pride ASIA events, Dim Sum Dialogues and Rice Ball.