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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Festival nurtures Thai network

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

After decades without a cultural organization to call their own, Hawai'i residents with roots in Thailand have banded together to form the Thai Association of Hawaii.

Mai Phuong Huynh, left, Ha Nguyen and Sutapa Svetamani practiced a dance last week at the Ala Wai Neighborhood Park that they will perform Friday at the Thai Cultural Day.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

To celebrate its birth, the association will hold a Thai Cultural Day festival at Honolulu Hale on Friday.

Adding flair to the day will be the presence of Kasit Piromya, the Thai ambassador to the United States, visiting from Washington, D.C.

Association founders say it was Piromya, when he first visited the Islands last year, who urged local Thais to form a group that would assist not only those who arrive from Thailand, but their non-Thai neighbors as well.

"We want to help our own people, and also our whole community," said Ichaya Danapong, president of the new organization.

Part of the proceeds from Friday's celebration will go toward relief efforts for southern Thailand's tsunami victims, Danapong said. The organization was in its planning stages when the disaster hit Dec. 26.

On Friday, arts and crafts displays as well as entertainment and exhibits will be free to the public.

Vatcharee Tongkatecha of Makiki made a bysri from banana leaves last week at the Ala Wai Neighborhood Park in preparation for the first Thai Cultural Day. Visitors to the festival from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at Honolulu Hale will be able to try their hand at the craft.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Besides traditional Thai dancing and modern jazz dancing, Thai kickboxing and a costume fashion show, Danapong said, Hawai'i residents will be introduced to the ancient craft of banana-leaf artwork. Attendees will be able to both watch and make their own art pieces, she said.

For a $25 fee, the public can feast on Thai food being served by five local restaurants as well as the association. The food is being provided by the restaurants either for free or at a deep discount, Danapong said.

Those purchasing the meal package also will be eligible for a raffle that includes a roundtrip ticket to Bangkok being offered by All Nippon Airways.

Thais have long congregated at Wat Buddhajakramongkolvararam, the Thai Buddhist Temple of Pearl City, which celebrated its 20th anniversary two weekends ago at Kapi'olani Park.

Danapong said the new association will augment the temple's efforts to assist others with ties to Thailand, especially those who do not know much English and need help with legal documents or other paperwork.

Thai Cultural celebration

What: The Thai Association of Hawaii's first Thai Cultural Day

When: 3 to 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Honolulu Hale

Other information: Free and open to the public; for $25, attendees can visit six food booths and participate in a drawing for a roundtrip ticket to Bangkok.

Contacts for advance food tickets: Janjira Pairrangsri, 386-9914; Sompartana Hughes, 258-6199; Ichaya Danapong, 949-9707.

"The temple always has been the focal point around the religious needs of Thai people," Danapong said. "They concentrate in that area, not just charitable or other needs."

Alina Oyadomari, a native of Thailand who has lived in Hawai'i the past four decades, says a support network may make it easier for Thais who arrive here to make Hawai'i their permanent home.

"Maybe we can encourage people to stay and help each other when they need the help," Oyadomari said.

Chai Chaowasaree, whose Chai's Island Bistro is among the restaurants providing the food, agreed with the need for the group.

"A lot of times, the Thai people who arrive here, there is a language barrier and they don't know where to go, they don't know what to do," said Chaowasaree, who has lived in Hawai'i 20 years. "This association will especially help support the people who really need the help."

Oyadomari said that for a brief while, there was a Thai association affiliated with the East-West Center. But that was led by Thai students at the center and the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and the group disappeared when they left, she said.

According to the 2000 Census, 2,284 Hawai'i residents identified themselves as having Thai blood, including 1,259 who described themselves as full-blooded Thai.

In 1990, when the Census only asked that people identify themselves with just one race, 1,220 Hawai'i residents checked Thai, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Colin Miyabara, honorary Thai consul, also gave his blessing to Friday's event.

"There is a lot to celebrate in Thai culture and art, and I am delighted the people of Honolulu will have the opportunity to share in the celebration," Miyabara said.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8026.