Meet the organization bringing together cultures from across Asia right here in Birmingham

Drummers performing at an Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation event
Don’t they look like they’re having so much fun? Photo via Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation’s Facebook page

As Birmingham prepares to host The World Games 2022, we’re taking a look at some of the many different cultures that call The Magic City Home. Last week, when we told you about unique Asian restaurants, we promised to come back and introduce you to the Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation. To find out more, we spoke with Helen Kim.

What is the Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation (AACF)?

people wearing beautiful dresses from Asian at an Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation event
I love the beautiful dresses. Photo via the Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation’s Facebook page

The Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation was founded in 2005. Why? To nurture and support artistic and cultural organizations within the Asian communities in the metro Birmingham area and across Alabama.

Their mission? To enable Americans of all cultures in Alabama—Asian as well as non-Asian—to enjoy and celebrate Asian arts and cultures.

Helen Kim told me that 41 countries fall under the umbrella of the Asian continent. 

The annual Alabama Asian Festival features entertainment, cultural heritage booths and food from a sampling of countries and cultures. 

About 2000 people attend the Alabama Asian Cultural Foundation’s events. According to Kim, attendance is mixed, with Asians, Caucasians and African Americans. Many attendees are thrilled to have the chance to taste food from some of the Asian countries. 

As anybody who’s ever thought about stopping by to a restaurant from an unfamiliar-to-them culture can attest, it’s intimidating to think about going into a place specializing in Indonesian, Nepalese, Pakistani or other food. 

Festivalgoers can try a variety of small plates featuring of lots of authentic and delicious options. Examples: a rice dish from the Philippines, a meat dish from Korea, and so on. 

Cultural heritage booths are often aimed at children and revolve around different themes each year, for example toys that children can come up and play with.

The Asian Cultures Foundation—from 2005 until now

Dancers on a stage at an AACF event
“Unity in diversity.” Photo via the Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation’s Facebook page

“Unity in diversity” is the AACF’s motto. With education and cultural programs, they foster diversity, international understanding and friendship. 

Since their founding, they’ve hosted programs and events to enhance appreciation of Asian arts and cultures. 

The festival usually takes place on a Saturday and celebrates all things Asian, including different cultures, food from local restaurants, all-day entertainment from local and out-of-state Asian artists, including dancers, musicians and singers. 

For most years, except this past year due to COVID, they’ve hosted an additional  program showcasing Asian artistry. The 2010 performance featured a Korean dance troupe that came all the way from Korea for a one-day performance at the Virginia Samford Theatre. In the end, the performance was sold out to an all-ages audience who, according to Kim, loved it. 

They’ve also hosted a Chinese contemporary ballet company, a ballet company from Hanoi, Vietnam and Liu Fang, a Chinese musician who lives in Canada and plays the pipa, making one instrument sound like a whole orchestra. 

Mark your calendar for the next Asian Cultures and Food Festival

An incredible painting made with colored grains of rice
Yes, they made that with rice. Photo via the Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation’s Facebook page

The Asian Cultures and Food Festival is currently scheduled for April 10, 2021. 

  • Location: Bessemer Civic Center, 1130 9th Ave SW, Bessemer, AL 35022
  • Date: April 10, 2021
  • Time: 10:30AM-4PM
  • Get tickets: $10 general admission, $7 military, veterans + students, kids under 12 free
  • Follow: Facebook

Looking to the future: Asian Cultural Education Center + Chinese Garden

Helen Kim and the late Bob Davis, founder of the Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation
Helen Kim and the late Bob Davis, founder of the Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation. Photo via AACF’s Facebook page

Kim says the group has plans to build a pan-Asian site to celebrate Asian arts and cultures with non-Asians as well as Asians in the state of Alabama. This would allow them to have a permanent home, complete with a classical Chinese garden similar to what you find all over China and an International Friendship and World Peace Plaza connecting the two. 

​Helen Kim summed up her favorite part of being involved with the Asian Cultures Foundation: “It has allowed me personally to experience meeting all kinds of people I never would have otherwise.”

Learn more about the Asian Cultures Foundation on their website or Facebook. Find out more about the Alabama Asian Festival on their website or Facebook

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Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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