Summertime in July would not be complete without a visit to the annual Colorado Dragon Boat Festival (CDBF), a free two-day weekend event — July 28-29 — hosted by Denver’s eclectic Asian-Pacific community in Sloan’s Lake neighborhood.
Now in its 12th year, the event attracts more than 90,000 guests including a mix of Hispanic participants ranging from musicians and artists, to food vendors and boat captains, and, of course, helpful volunteers. This year Denver artist Tony Ortega has designed the commemorative poster titled “Team Work” featuring a colorful pastel painting of a dragon boat and a rowing team moving swiftly through the water. Among this year’s racing teams with Latino captains include Lockheed Martin’s Flag Catching Team featuring Mike and Stephanie Ortiz.
Boat racing teams have grown from 16 teams in 2000 to 52 teams this year, and, depending on the style of boat, each team features 18 or 20 paddlers with at least eight men and eight women paddlers and a drummer. Each race is at least 250 meters long or about 820 feet –– about the length of two football fields.
“In the early years we had a team called Los Piratas and they were great. They really got into the competition,” says Denver writer and CDBF organizer Gil Asakawa. From boat captains and musicians to food vendors and artists, Hispanics come out in full force to particpate, he says.
In fact, in 2007 “Los Piratas: Plunderers of Sloan’s Lake” represented the racing team for the American GI Forum, Mile Hi Chapter. Led by Denver judge Johnny Barajas and his wife, Jeri, the crew represented a full Hispanic crew from throughout Denver and managed to win three of five races that year.
Among the performers featured each year are dancers, martial artists and musicians representing various Asian-Pacific nations. The family event also includes a marketplace, food vendors, cultural exhibits, a wellness village, a Dragonland play zone for children, and this year the first-ever 5K Run/Walk. Live musicians perform a multicultural blend of sounds as part of the Cultural Unity hip-hop showcase introduced in 2007.
“We’re really proud of the Cultural Unity component,” Asakawa says, “because it’s the most diverse section of the Festival.”
Among Latino performers this year are Mikey Mestas of Breakology Iterations Productions who specializes in African drumming and break dancing and DJ Chonz of radio station KS-107.5. Japanese-Panamanian Rapper artist Koichi Ninomiya (AKA, Ichiban Bizzle) performs Hip Hop with a Japanese influence.
“Our mission is to educate people about the metro area’s many Asian traditions and communities,” explains CDBF Executive Director Erin Yoshimura. “Diversity and cultural sharing is also important.”
The festival has always brought together the best of Denver’s diverse Asian community. And, thanks to CDBF organizers, the event has consistently embraced Denver’s Latino participation and the entire community for more than a decade. For more info visit www.cdbf.org.