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Drag performance draws crowd at Chinatown festival highlighting cultural diversity

Awakening Chinatown showcased cultural diversity of Chinese Canadian society
From left, House of Rice drag artists Bongganisa, Shay Dior, Lulu Lomein, and Kara Juku pose for a photo following their performance at the 3rd Awakening Chinatown festival on May 26, 2024. TIMES COLONIST

Drag performers were one of the bigger draws at a Victoria Chinatown festival on Sunday showcasing the diversity of Chinese Canadian society. 

The festivities on Fisgard Street included traditional Chinese dance groups, vocal and instrument performances, as well as kung fu and lion dance demonstrations. 

House of Rice drag artist Shay Dior, one of four drag artists who performed on Fisgard Street on Sunday, was frequently stopped for photos with fans. 

It’s the Vancouver-based drag group’s second year at the Awakening Chinatown festival, which started in 2022. The four drew curious looks when members started putting on their drag makeup during the ferry ride. 

Dior, who has been performing drag for eight years, said drag has become increasingly mainstream, but it’s necessary to continue public performances to counter anti-LGBTQ sentiments. 

Dior recalls a lion dancer who came over to show her appreciation after their first Awakening Chinatown performance last year. “She started tearing up, saying how happy she was to see queer Asians on stage and how it was such an important, impactful thing for her.” 

Grace Wong Sneddon, chair of the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society, which presented the event, said it’s important to showcase a wide range of Asian voices and identities, regardless of whether they lean toward the traditional or the contemporary. 

“We are evolving. … We can’t just stay in the past,” said Wong Sneddon, the first woman to chair Victoria’s 135-year-old Hoy Sun Ning Yung Benevolent Association, a Chinatown organization that used to only allow male membership. “We want to showcase who we all are.” 

The festival was capped off by a duet performance by Pacific Opera Victoria singers Alex Chen and Irina Kim. 

Event organizers estimated an attendance of around 3,000 to 4,000 people. 

Chinatown’s newest business owner, Zhao Shan, said in an interview in Mandarin that he was pleasantly surprised by the vibrancy on show in Canada’s oldest Chinatown. 

Zhao, who opened his store at 541 Fisgard St. about a week ago, said that this is the second such store in Canada promoting ceramic, redwood and jade goods from China’s Jiangxi province. The first was in Toronto. 

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