Before her first term ends on June 30, Fairfax City Councilmember So Lim hopes to fulfill at least one more campaign promise.

A South Korean immigrant who has lived in the City of Fairfax since she was 11, Lim became the first Asian American woman to serve on the city’s governing body when she was elected on May 1, 2018. Fellow Councilmember Sang Yi, who was elected that same day, is the first Asian American man on the city council.

In addition to echoing general concerns about the effect of traffic and development on the city’s cozy, small-town atmosphere, Lim came into office promising to give more visibility to Korean American residents and the other immigrant communities that populate the City of Fairfax.

Barring any widespread coronavirus-related restrictions or quarantines, that dream will come true for local Asian Americans at least with the launch of the first annual Asian American Heritage Festival at the Historic Blenheim on Old Lee Highway on May 9.

“The city is very diverse, and we have a full menu of events that [the City of Fairfax] Parks and Recreation [Department] does a great job on, but it’s never been internationally focused,” Lim said. “Sometime, I thought it’d be nice to have an event where we can bring out the diverse community out and about and be more involved in the city.”

Lim helped plant the seeds for the event by connecting city staff with the festival’s organizers, the United Korean American Network, a nonprofit organization formed in 2019 to advocate for Asian American immigrants in the Washington, D.C., region and promote their cultures to future generations.

Lim, UKAN leaders, and City of Fairfax staff members convened at Historic Blenheim, a Civil War-era historical site, on Mar. 2 to formally announce the Asian American Heritage Festival, which is scheduled for May to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

While the group putting it together is led by Korean Americans, organizers say they are making an effort to ensure the festival captures the breadth of Asian American culture with performers and vendors representing Chinese Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Filipino Americans, and other nationalities.

“We're trying to incorporate all Asian Americans,” UKAN board chairman David Han said.

With a full schedule from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., the one-day event will boast 30 booths from retailers and community groups, including 10 food-related booths, and more than 50 performers who will showcase traditional music, dance, and arts and crafts.

Some of the more unique features planned for the festival are a Little Miss Asian America pageant for children 5 to 8, a spicy chicken wing eating contest supported by the Korean fried chicken eatery Bonchon Chicken, K-POP music performances, taekwondo demonstrations, and a DJ hour.

There will also be a beer garden and a Kids Zone with recreational activities, games, origami, and a section for Historic Blenheim staff who will discuss the site’s history.

This is the first time that the City of Fairfax is using Historic Blenheim for an event of the size envisioned by the Asian American Heritage Festival’s organizers, according to Cathy Salgado, the city’s parks and recreation director.

The parks and recreation department normally stages large community events around Old Town Square in the heart of the city’s downtown, but with eight usable acres, Historic Blenheim offers significantly more space.

“This site here just provides such a wonderful setting with the trees, with the rolling lawns that you have,” Salgado said. “It seemed like the perfect fit for this festival, so we’re really, really pleased that you all are so well-organized putting this event on. It makes it very easy for the city to partner with you all to make this event happen.”

While on-site parking will largely be reserved for vendors and people with disabilities, there will be free available off-site parking for other visitors at the Stacy C. Sherwood Community Center, Daniels Run Elementary School, and nearby churches.

Acknowledging that the surrounding area can become congested, Han says there could possibly be a shuttle provided to transport people to and from the off-site parking lots, but the details have not been worked out yet.

Salgado says the parks and recreation department has been eager to expand its event offerings to be more inclusive in recognition of the increasing diversity of Fairfax City’s population.

According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the City of Fairfax’s population is 69 percent white, 4.6 percent black, 17 percent Asian, and 16.9 percent Hispanic or Latino. 5.2 percent of city residents identify with two or more races.

About 28 percent of the city’s 24,574 residents are foreign-born, meaning they were not a U.S. citizen or national at birth.

According to Salgado, bringing in groups from different cultures to perform in Fairfax City has been a priority for the city’s cultural arts manager Megan DuBois, who works within the parks and recreation department to promote arts and culture by investing in and working with local artists, musicians, and arts organizations.

The city’s next cultural arts event is a belated Chinese New Year celebration with a visit from the Herndon-based Xuejuan Dance Ensemble, which will provide a dance showcase and brief workshop alongside craft-making and food tasting activities at the Sherwood Community Center in Fairfax on Mar. 7.

With over 100 volunteers expected, the Asian American Heritage Festival will be financed with sponsorships from area businesses, community contributions, fundraisers, and income from sales at the festival, according to Han.

UKAN and Fairfax City have landed some sponsors and vendors but hope to attract more before a Mar. 13 deadline to ensure inclusion in publicity and promotion materials.

Organizers are also looking for children who would be interested in participating in the Little Miss Asian America pageant.

More information about the festival can be found at UKAN’s website, ukandc.org, or by calling 703-851-0068.

“We wanted to honor all the cultural aspect or all the aspects of being an Asian American in this country,” Han said. “So, we want to celebrate that part of it, and that spirit, I hope, can continue even during this time.”

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