Friday, October 12, 2012

Hello To All the Children of the World

International Fair
Hello, bonjour, buenos dias!
Hello, Bonjour, Buenos Dias
G'Day, Gutentag, Konichiwa
Ciao, Shalom, Dobre Dyen, 
Hello to all the children of the world!

Last Friday, I chaired an event at my sons' school: the International Fair. It was a wonderful celebration of culture and community.

Several months ago, the school PTA president asked for volunteers to help plan the event this fall. I signed up, thinking I'd basically be organizing a giant potluck. (When you say International Fair, I say food: Fair! Food! Fair! Food!)

We moved to California last summer, so we are still relatively new to the neighborhood. At our former elementary school in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, we loved the Soul Food Dinner/Multicultural Night that was held every other year. Food was a huge part of the evening, as it was essentially a massive potluck dinner in the cafeteria, flanked by parent-hosted country booths. The soul food selections were always fantastic: fried chicken, mac-n-cheese casseroles, banana pudding, sweet potato pies. The other cultural dishes were wonderful too. Latkes always disappeared fast, along with potstickers.

So at our new school this year, I agreed to chair the International Fair. And then I learned that it was more than a potluck. I worked closely with two other moms to plan the event. Juggling home and work responsibilities, we met weekly for the past month and a half to develop and execute a plan that included recruiting volunteers, lining up food and merchandise vendors, scheduling entertainment and coordinating publicity. Before this event, I had not met these two women, but by Friday evening, we had bonded. For weeks, we dealt with lots of logistical details together. Unexpected problems cropped up. Volunteers dropped out, food trucks broke down, performers needed special accommodations. We worked with some wonderful people along the way: committed parent volunteers and a supportive school staff, including our principal, Amanda Boyce.

It had been years since the school last hosted an International Fair and in the past, the event had been held as a schoolday event only for students. This year, we hosted the event on a Friday evening and opened it to families and the larger community. With these changes, we didn't know if people would respond favorably. An hour and a half before the event opened, I stood alone on the school blacktop starting to worry. What if the food trucks don't come? What if the DJ doesn't come? What if no one comes?

Then, the first food vendor arrived: the charming El Sur food truck. They showed up early to begin baking their incredible Argentinian empanadas. When they rolled up, I was so excited I shrieked and ran up to them like they were the Ice Cream Man. I directed them and the other food trucks to park in a way that anchored a food court area. Then, the custodian arrived and set up tables and chairs, helping everyone all evening. Merchandise vendors came and set up clothing, jewelry and henna stands. Parent and teacher volunteers trickled in and set up various country displays.

Everything was coming together and I happily ticked off items on my checklists. I was starting to breathe normally again. When the DJ arrived and successfully hooked up his equipment, I felt even more relieved. And then when the martial arts team showed up, looking not unlike the Cobra Kai team from The Karate Kid, I knew everything was going to be OK. (Seriously, I expected their leader, at any moment, to say, ominously, "Sweep the leg.")

Families strolled in, many dressed in clothing from their native countries: China, India, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Phillipines, Romania and more. They practiced slapshots at the Canada booth, folded origami hats at the Japan booth, tried tinikling at the Phillipines booth. They sampled street food from the food trucks and the Indian chaat vendor.

Everyone swarmed the dance and music performances. One of my fellow event coordinators, a dance teacher among other roles, choreographed and led a delightful kindergarten performance that attracted a large mob of overbearing kinder parents (me being one of them). In all the time I worked to plan this evening, I had forgotten that my own younger son would be performing. When he and all the other kinders sang "Hello to all the children of the world", everything about the evening came together. All the logistical details swarming in my head fell away and I just listened to these adorable youngsters singing to celebrate our international community.

It was a memorable night.


HapaMama said...

How fun. We did something like this -- on a smaller scale-- at my kids' preschool. You're the perfect person to organize it.

SJ Gethsemane said...


I found your blog by google searching Asian American/women/blogger... and I like your post. Plus I lived in the Bay, but moved to central Ohio. Kind of opposite your journey. So I feel a connection :-)

I love this post. I look forward to more stories from the life of an Asian American momma. I'm younger, engaged recently. & I'm just starting blogging to try to get my feelings and thoughts together through this whole process. If you have time in between cooking potstickers and writing for other huge publications, feel free to drop by my blog too and leave your mark. :-)



Lisa Chiu said...

Thanks for your comments! HapaMama, you are always so supportive. :) SJ, I'm so happy you found me! There are a lot of great Asian American women bloggers out there now, including Hapa Mama. I'll check out your blog too!

linda shiue said...

Lisa, when you described this festival I had no idea how HUGE an undertaking it was! Congrats on a great job! I have more ideas for the BoPoMoFo food truck, btw...

Lisa Chiu said...

Thanks, Linda! I want to hear about your ideas for the BoPoMoFo food truck! Have you tried the food from Chairman Bao yet? I just learned about their food truck. We can do better than bao though. ;)