Taiko performance at Okinawa Association of America’s annual picnic. (Photo by Drew Cabra)
The Okinawa Association of America (OAA) will host its Annual Members Picnic on Sunday, July 15, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Whittier Narrows Park in South El Monte.
Featuring live entertainment, youth games and races, raffle drawings, and Bon dancing, it’s the perfect event for reunions or a sunny outing with family and friends. Non-members are also encouraged to attend the event and apply for membership.
This picnic has been a tradition since the 1930’s, pioneered by early Uchinaanchu (Okinawan) immigrants as a way to build community and to bring elements of the motherland to their new home in Southern California. The event has since become a multigenerational gathering centered around great company and the rich cultural heritage that unites the community.
Enjoy local talent in the picnic’s all-day entertainment program. From traditional folk music, dance, and karate to the dynamic Ryūkyūkoku Matsuri Daiko drumming group, this is one of the few annual events that spotlights the diverse culture of the Ryūkyū Islands. There will also be non-traditional performances by young artists.
Bring the whole family and enjoy games and crafts throughout the day. Activities include a water balloon toss, relay races, hot potato (set to fast-paced Okinawan songs), and tama-ire (a popular bean bag toss game in Japan) with prizes for all participants. The picnic will conclude with the much-anticipated tug-o-war (chinahichi in the Okinawan language).
For $1 per raffle ticket, you can try your luck at tickets to Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain, the L.A. County Fair, the Natural History Museum, and the Dodgers. Other great prizes include children’s bicycles, gift cards, and more. This fundraiser will benefit the OAA’s yearly activities as well as much-needed maintenance and repairs for the organization’s facilities.
The picnic’s festivities will culminate with Bon Odori, a community dance circle that is performed in honor of our ancestors. All audience members are invited to join – no experience necessary. Experienced dancers in the inner circle will lead the way with choreographies that are repetitive and easy to follow. The dances will be energized by live Okinawan folk music provided by sanshin (Okinawan three-stringed lute) and parankuu (hand drum) performers. If you want to learn the dances ahead of time, practice videos are available at oaamensore.org.
For many OAA members, the picnic is rooted in their family’s history: “My seven siblings and I have fond memories of the picnics in the ’60s,” Petra Oganeku-Wallace recalled. Forty years later, a Facebook post brought her back: “My cousin Myrna posted, ‘Let’s have a Family Ohana Reunion at the Okinawan Picnic!’” Twenty-three of her relatives attended last year’s event. “The feeling of nostalgia was strong.”
For the younger generation, new family traditions are being created at the picnic: Paige Barrella, a fourth-generation Okinawan descendant, attended last year’s picnic for the first time with 25 of her relatives. “It’s very rare that that many people in our family are all together at once,” she remarked. “[We] enjoyed being able to be around each other while also learning about our culture.”
The picnic will be held at Whittier Narrows Park, Area E-1, 750 Santa Anita Ave., South El Monte. On-site parking is $6 per car (carpooling is recommended). Doors opens at 10 a.m. Volunteers are needed on July 14 and 15; contact the OAA to sign up.
Optional bento lunches ($10) and raffle tickets ($1) are available for pre-order only, while supplies last: email@example.com, (310) 532-1929 (must be ordered before July 10). The combination plates – ginger pork, chicken karaage, vegetables, and rice – will be cooked and packaged by Healthy Food 4 Kids, a local non-profit organization that raises funds for educational children’s activities. Each order also includes a bottled water and one saataa andaagii provided by the OAA. A very limited supply will be available at the event, but preordering is highly recommended.