Two months after the board of the nonprofit Feast of Lanterns organization announced it was voluntarily ending the tradition following intense public pressure over complaints of cultural appropriation, members are creating a program they say is brand new, despite leaning heavily on some aspects of the Feast.
Gone is the "Royal Court" of princesses—with occasional male "scholars"—who for decades wore Chinese costumes. Instead the new program is seeking teen ambassadors in grades 8-12 with goals similar to the old program: teaching leadership and public speaking skills. Teens will also receive scholarships.
Board member Christine Gruber says the teens selected for the year will be encouraged to create their own public outreach initiatives based on their interests. For example, an ambassador passionate about animal rescue could pursue an awareness campaign or events to involve the public.
The ambassadors will also serve as MCs of a new event called "Pacific Grove Summer Lights." They are proposing festivities take place July 29-30, with events reminiscent of the Feast, including a pet parade and dance. On Saturday, July 30, they are proposing a day-long carnival with other events, like a sand castle building contest, at Lovers Point. The festival would conclude that evening with a laser light show.
An application is now going through city review. Organizers are asking city officials to approve Summer Lights on a trial basis. If approved, "we'll make it happen," Gruber says.
"We’ve all been through so much with this pandemic and everything. [Summer Lights] is a fun time to gather and see people you haven’t seen," she says.
There will be no pageant, Gruber confirms. The Feast of Lanterns pageant became a flash point recently for a grassroots movement among local activists and a regional Asian community. The old pageant performed annually since the 1950s was based on a faux Chinese fable about a Chinese king and his princesses. It was beloved by P.G. residents who have consistently been mostly white people.
In recent years criticism of the pageant, along with the use of Chinese costumes and lanterns, grew slowly, starting with efforts by the late Gerry Low-Sabado—a descendant of the residents of a Chinese fishing village in P.G. that was burned down in 1906—to persuade the Feast board to make changes.
After Low-Sabado's death last August, more people began to speak out and called for the city to stop supporting the event, allowing organizers to use city properties free of charge.
The pressure to end the Feast came to a head in February, when after a P.G. City Council meeting where numerous people spoke out, the board announced it was permanently ending the Feast.