Farragut’s Alderman force behind Asian Fest

As Farragut resident Kumi Alderman lay in bed, she had a vision: music, food, costumes and fun.

Now from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 27, in Market Square, the community can see everything she imagined: the aroma of Asian food, lion dancing, Asian musicians playing the harp, Chinese guitar, flute and biwa — a Chinese bass. There will even be Matsuriza Japanese drummers from Disney World.

Twenty-eight food vendors will tempt diners. Children can have their “passports” stamped as they and their parents travel from Market Square to Krutch Park to Clinch Avenue to Union Street at the free Asian Festival that is expected to draw more than 15,000 people. This will be the fourth festival in a row and Alderman sums it up succinctly: “It’s fun. It’s different.”

Five years ago, just as Kumi and David Alderman’s children, Kenta and Miki, were transitioning from Farragut High School to The University of Tennessee, a wreck changed the direction of Kumi’s life. She was forced to spend about six months in bed, went through two knee surgeries and did a lot of thinking.

“When I was laying down on the bed I thought ‘What can I do?’ I just wanted to create a welcoming community here in Knoxville and East Tennessee for as many people as I could. One way is to have a festival to share our culture. I’m from California and there we have an Asian festival.”

She realized her idea was too big to handle by herself, so she told three friends. Their response surprised her.

“‘We’ve been thinking about that for 10 years,’” Alderman recalled them saying. They were in.

“I said, ‘OK, we will get people for the festival,’” Alderman recalled. “I reached out to University of Tennessee professors, Japanese and Chinese companies, Japanese, Korean and Chinese schools. We got all the information about what we should do.”

The first year, 2014, was at Krutch Park. About 3,000 people came. Each country — Japan, China, India, the Philippines and Thailand — had their own booth to teach children about their country, the language, the games children play there and taught them how to say hello and thank you.

Since Alderman and her friends first put their heads together, the event has blossomed. Now there are about 100 volunteers on about 15 committees, mainly composed of UT professors.

The festival has been so successful that it has expanded to Krutch Park, Market Square, Union Street and Clinch Avenue. Booths representing Japan, China, the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, India, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia and Cambodia will come to represent their cultures.

Visitors will be treated to demonstrations of Kendo (sword fighting), Judo, Kung Fu and Karate. At 11 a.m. a lion dragon dance will lead the parade in Market Square that will include Japanese drummers from Disney World. The drummers will perform three other times on the stage that day.

“I can call this ‘Authentic Asian Food Festival’ too,” Alderman laughed. “One guy is in Laos right now learning how to cook from his mother. He’ll bring back that recipe and cook for the festival.

“At the festival everything’s fun. People smile. When they’re at the festival they’re enjoying talking to each country [represented], enjoying the food. I feel like everybody’s connected, nobody’s different. That’s the reason we do it.”

This year Burmese handbags will be for sale. The proceeds will be sent back to Burma to fund a sewing school for girls.

“They don’t have a job much, so the girls are learning to sew,” Alderman said. “We’re also raising money to build a water supply for a Vietnamese orphanage.”

Having a festival is expensive, she said. “We’re always looking for sponsors to support us. Participants can register to become a member of the Asian Cultural Center, the festival’s nonprofit, for $25 per year.”

For more information, go to knoxasianfestival.com.