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Celebrating Asian, Pacific Islander traditions

Giang Pham of Vietnam displays traditional Vietnamese fans

Giang Pham of Vietnam displays traditional Vietnamese fans during the ninth annual Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month Celebration in the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University on Saturday, May 13, 2017. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Imagine spinning gracefully on your bare heel 17 times in a row, or carrying a 115-pound colleague on your shoulders while dancing like a lion.

Performers at Saturday’s ninth annual Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month Celebration demonstrated these ceremonial traditions and a host of others at Stony Brook University’s Charles B. Wang Center.

“I am just enthralled,” said Mary Anselmo of Mount Sinai, watching a troop of preteen girls perform a classical Indian dance.

“It opens up other cultures to Americans, which is extremely important,” she said.

Eleven countries were represented — Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam — during the afternoon’s free performances and workshops. Arts and crafts also were displayed.

The girls’ dance troop performed the Kathak, which is a romantic contest, explained Krisha, 11, one of the barefoot, heel-spinning performers, and her mother, Purvi Patel, 40, of St. James.

“It is like these little princesses are trying to get the king to marry them,” Krisha said.

“It’s really fun to do and it kind of just relieves your stress,” her mother said.

The festival began with a parade, led by drummers and traditional Chinese lion dance performers.

Costumed in green, Rafael Marmo-Zilb, 20, of Medford toted his partner, Holly Liggett, 21, of Selden, on his back. That required considerable athleticism and lots of practice — about two- to three-hour sessions, three days a week, they said.

“It’s like jumping around . . . with a giant weight on your back,” said Marmo-Zilb, who also must open and close the 35-pound mask’s eyes and mouth.

Liggett does much more than just guide her partner; she has to support him when he goes down on one knee, and stay balanced when he tosses her in the air, they said.

And “I shake my butt a little bit,” she added.

Nikki Gins, 51, of Mount Sinai, the festival’s organizer as chair of the Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, joined others in underscoring the event’s hopeful and unifying themes.

“It’s so important that we don’t emphasize our differences,” Gins said.

“Maybe if we know more about one another we can minimize our misunderstandings and hatred.”

An Dzung, 55, of New York City agreed, saying he was “very happy . . . to make connections with another country’s culture.”

South Korea hosted the event this year. “We are not here for politics. We are here for love,” Gins said.

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