Costumed performers and rows of vendors calling out to passersby from booths offering street food, shiny trinkets and herbal remedies added to the hubbub of Oakland’s Chinatown over the weekend during the 25th annual Chinatown StreetFest.
This year’s festival, marking the Year of the Dragon, was about food and tradition. Small businesses, community organizations and health services came from across the region to the StreetFest, organized every year by the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, which helps businesses in Oakland’s Asian community.
For most of Saturday and Sunday, a mix of young and old crowded the dozen blocks of Oakland’s Chinatown for the street festival. Boxes of herbal teas and traditional sweets were laid out under brightly colored awnings that lined the streets. Visitors perused stacks of belts, hats and beaded purses or gazed at the jewelry and red tasseled Chinese charms hanging at various booths.
There were stations set up by healthcare providers like Summit Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente, both sponsors of the event, to conduct routine physical checkups on the spot. People waited in line to have a doctor check their blood pressure or listen to their heartbeat. At a booth for Asian Health Services, an Alameda County healthcare advocate for Asian and Pacific Islanders, a young clinician asked her patient, “What language do you speak? Is it Vietnamese?” before hailing the appropriate colleague.
To keep the crowds amused, there were three different stages with entertainment and craft activities—the Cultural Stage, the Popular Stage and the Cultural Village. On the Cultural Stage, young students showcased their martial arts skills while across the festival at the Popular Stage, bands played rock, jazz and a selection of other modern music. At the Cultural Village on 9th and Webster, volunteers led groups in calligraphy, origami and face painting.
Families came to the StreetFest—children enjoyed the giant slides, dunking booths and other games while their parents shopped for bamboo plants, herbal tea or a savory lunch from a street vendor. Groups of teenagers browsed the tempting snacks and trinkets, enjoying a sunny afternoon with friends. There was a mix of dialects in the air—young people switched seamlessly from English to Chinese, calling out to friends in their native languages.
Chinese culture was not the only one represented at the StreetFest. Polynesian dancers and Gen Taiko, a group of Japanese drummers, performed traditional routines. At the food court, booths sold Thai barbeque, sandwiches from Saigon, fruity Taiwanese bubble teas, Mexican style roasted corn and even the typical American hotdog.
But the StreetFest was Chinese at heart. Saturday’s opening ceremonies kicked off the street festival with a round of traditional Chinese lion dancing and drumming. As the brightly colored, sequined heads bobbed and waved to the beats, Oakland’s Chinatown came alive.