‘I was harming the AAPI community’: Festival organizer apologizes for wearing Asian costumes

festival Monterey pacific grove apology

Kaye Coleman, who grew up participating in her local Feast of the Lanterns, wrote that she was inspired to “change with kindness” because of her friendship with the late activist Gerry Low-Sabado.

A local tradition: The Feast of the Lanterns has been celebrated in Pacific Grove, Calif. for more than 100 years.

  • The festival includes an annual pageant in Pacific Grove that once featured aesthetics and costumes inspired by East Asian cultures, with a Chinese fisherman character as the villain.
  • Coleman participated in the events throughout her life, earning the title of queen as a teenager. In adulthood, she served in multiple board positions.
  • In a public apology published through Monterey County Weekly, however, Coleman discussed the harm she feels she has caused the AAPI community through her participation in and contribution to the pageant. She also talked about the need for restorative justice.
  • “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 wrote.

Changing with kindness: Low-Sabado, a fifth-generation Chinese American, emphasized empathy in her efforts to reform the Feast of the Lanterns over the years, which ultimately led to her friendship with Coleman.

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  • Low-Sabado encouraged others to learn the important context of the history of Chinese Americans in Pacific Grove, including the destruction of a local Chinese village in 1906 by a mysterious fire.
  • Her efforts for reform were initially rebuffed in 2008, but in 2019, the organizers of the Feast of the Lanterns agreed to make major changes to the script, with Coleman supporting the reforms.
  • Low-Sabado was recognized by the ACLU of Northern California for her activist work in 2016. She was also recognized in an installation at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City.
  • She passed away on Sept. 7 this year after being diagnosed with cancer.

Featured Image via Jamie Allen Bishop (left), longtimers (right)

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