Kaye Coleman was queen of the Feast of Lanterns’ Royal Court as a teenager growing up in Pacific Grove. As an adult she was president of the nonprofit’s board of directors. Like so many people who grew up in the town, she held dear the feast as a cherished tradition.
Coleman is now deeply sorry for her involvement in a practice that engaged in cultural appropriation of Asian cultures.
“Every time I put on a Chinese, Japanese, or Korean costume to celebrate the Feast, I was harming the AAPI community, because I did not understand the impact of cultural appropriation and how it supports racial stereotypes,” Coleman writes in a public apology she sent to Pacific Grove Mayor Bill Peake and other leaders late last week.
“I wanted to be royalty, to serve my community and to feel special,” she states. “Although I did learn some valuable lessons regarding service to community, I regret the way in which I unconsciously propped up racism, sexism, gender bias, and classism.”
Her apology comes in the lead up to tonight’s meeting of the Pacific Grove Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force where Feast of Lanterns is on the agenda, along with consideration of a recommendation for the city to make a formal apology for the burning of a Chinese fishing village in the town in 1906.
“The AAPI community of the MontereyPeninsula has been instrumental to the success of this area and our Monterey Bay Region’s international fishing industry. However, when we explore local history, we find little information about the contributions of the BIPOC community. This needs to change. ‘The last hometown’ is centered in a white narrative,” Coleman writes.
Her realization came over many years and grew especially through the friendship she developed with Gerry Low-Sabado, who passed away last month. Low-Sabado was instrumental in bringing attention to the burning of the Chinese fishing village, located where the Hopkins Marine Station now stands. Low-Sabado also made attempts to ask the Feast of Lanterns board to make changes to the feast. An initial plea went without a response.
Low-Sabado found a willing listener in Coleman years later, after Coleman was elected to chair. Coleman became convinced that it was time to rewrite the feast’s pageant, a faux-Chinese fable featuring mostly white P.G. teens wearing Chinese costumes. Coleman managed to win consensus from the board to make significant changes, but in the end she parted ways with the board after she pushed unwilling board members to publicly acknowledge past appropriation.
“(Low-Sabado) helped me to understand how it felt as a Chinese American to watch the Feast of Lanterns pageant and fireworks. Gerry and I spent many hours talking and exploring ideas for ‘Change with Kindness’ (Low-Sabado’s motto). In honor of her memory, I choose to publicly apologize.”
She urged the city to also publicly apologize and denounce racism in all its forms, as well as to stop financially supporting the Feast of Lanterns in the future. She signs the letter “in loving memory of Gerry Low-Sabado.”
A full version of Coleman’s apology is attached to this post.