The nonprofit Asian Cultural Experience, aka ACE, was founded in 2007 with the goal of preserving the history of Salinas’ Chinatown. Like many Chinatowns found around the world, this one, sandwiched between East Rossi and East Market streets, was where migrant laborers could find a place to sleep, eat and gather. Eventually, it became a more permanent community. “People set up businesses. Parents sent their children to Chinese or Japanese schools here. It’s where people lived with their families and stayed for a long time,” says Jean Vengua, ACE’s programming manager.
For years, one of the biggest goals for the nonprofit was buying and transforming the landmark Chinatown building, The Republic Café, into a museum and community center, Vengua says; “but that’s not ACE’s only goal.” It’s also creating programs, workshops and building an educational curriculum for local students. “It’s so important that we hear from younger generations to see what they want to know and what they want to learn.”
Enter said younger generation, including Jason Agpaoa, Carissa Purnell and Dominic Dursa. They represent the newest membership of ACE. They are some of the creative minds that led the charge of ACE’s first-ever virtual Asian Cultural Festival.
“Making it a virtual festival was a way for us [younger members] to step up and do our part, as maybe a more tech-savvy generation, and continue these traditions,” Agpaoa says. So they got busy designing flyers, compiling footage of historical clips, and planning cooking demos, dances and other performances that make up this year’s virtual festival.
The festival isn’t just about engaging in Asian culture for a couple of hours or trying out new foods. It’s there to help raise money to fund programs that are at the heart of ACE’s goals—preserving and promoting the multicultural history of Chinatown. The new generation has some ideas of what that looks like.
For Dursa, who is half-Japanese, it’s about a safe place where people can come together and not only celebrate holidays like Obon or Chinese New Year, but also talk about tough issues like anti-Asian hate. “This is our culture, whether we are older, middle-aged or younger,” he adds.
For Purnell, who is half-Filipina, she wants a place where she can reconnect with lost history and culture, and programs that will help build a more robust Asian community. “My family is from Sacramento and Stockton and they have a Little Manila—they have a legacy, they have everything. Salinas could be like that. We have that history too, but we have to preserve it,” she says. “It’s much harder to rebuild.”