LA CRESCENTA, Calif. — Helen Choi strolled through Grace Baptist Community Church as a South Korean flag in her hands fluttered in the breeze.
As she gazed upon the large gathering of Korean-Americans celebrating their heritage, Choi could not help but to tear up and express her patriotism.
“I’m sad that I don’t know much about my home country but all that’s going to change today,” she said. “Being surrounded by fellow Koreans makes me love my homeland even more.”
Choi, a third-generation Korean-American, was able to explore her roots and be closer to her community when Grace Baptist Community Church hosted an event to celebrate Korean culture, customs, and cuisine.
More than 300 people attended the Grace Baptist Korean Culture Festival on Dec. 3, 2016 and featured a plethora of vendors providing various eats and cultural keepsakes.
“This festival commemorates our beautiful heritage and is meant to education anyone who is curious about Korean culture,” explained event coordinator, Esther Kim.
The 27-year-old nurse was compelled to start the Grace Baptist Korean Culture Festival after realizing that the Korean population in her hometown of La Crescenta was dense but not unified.
“There are a lot of us out here but our city never has celebrations or festivals like in Chinatown or Little Tokyo,” stated Kim, “It was my dream for everyone here to know what being Korean is all about.”
Popular attractions included presentations showcasing proper etiquette and booths teaching patrons Korean phrases and idioms.
Employees, donned in traditional Korean garments called “hanbok,” taught Helen Choi how to bow respectfully in the presence of elders and how to politely greet company.
“My parents were second generation and never bothered to teach me our traditions” Choi said. “Trying to cram all of this knowledge is one of the most entertaining challenges I’ve ever had.”
Longtime La Crescenta resident, Tony Abbasian, found the festival to be educational and essential for his new life as a family man.
“My mother-in-law is Korean and communicating with her can be a nightmare,” joked Abbasian. “After about five years of knowing her, I was finally able to tell her today that I loved her in Korean.”
Festival visitors not only lined up to expand their knowledge on traditions, but also to satiate their appetites with Korean cuisine at numerous food trucks and stalls.
Celebrity chef and owner of Kogi Korean BBQ, Roy Choi, accommodated hungry customers with Korean-Mexican dishes influenced by his ethnicity and his childhood in Downtown Los Angeles.
“Tacos and kimchi are iconic,” explained Choi. “I combined these two ingredients and to represent the merging of my dual cultures.”
As she organized an ocean of receipts and ticket orders, Caroline Shin, Chef Choi’s associate and sous-chef de cuisine, cracked a grin and scanned the line snaking around the block.
“Roy and I started this truck to show to the world how good our [Korean] food is,” nodded Shin. “It makes me so proud that I have a hand in sharing my culture’s cuisine to people all over California.”
Esther Kim and Grace Baptist Community Church’s brainchild generated enough support from sponsors to make the festival an annual event..
“With the help of Samsung Mobile USA and local Korean businesses in La Crescenta, we were able to generate funds to work on a bigger cultural festival for 2017,” eplained Kim.
Kim’s partner and assistant coordinator, Patricia Chiu-Harris, noted that the Grace Baptist Korean Culture Festival still had room for improvement in the near future.
“Our vision is getting clearer with every phone call we make and every tent that we set up here,” remarked Chiu-Harris. “This event will only get better and we hope that our efforts can bring light to how beautiful this culture of ours is.”