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Hugh Carey, Deseret News
Dancers from the Salt Lake Chinese Dance Arts perform during the Utah Asian Festival at the South Towne Exposition Center Saturday, June 14, 2014, in Sandy.

SANDY — Two boys sat eating rice and rolls at the South Town Expo Center Saturday. For Gian Astilla, 19, it was a flashback to the home he left in Cebu Philippines five years ago.

"It kind of gets you back in touch with your culture, because you don't see a lot of that in your everyday life," he said.

The 37th annual Asian Festival brought those of all ages and race together to celebrate Asian cultures in Utah.

Astill said the festival gave all participants an opportunity to experience various Asian cultures in a real, hands on experience.

"I think it's better than watching it on TV, you know?"

With him, 19-year-old Elihu Estrada from Tijuana, Mexico said the festival gave him good exposure to the culture.

"It's always nice to learn a new culture," he said. "And being a friend of (Astill) too for a long time, makes me appreciate their culture as well."

Agnes Higley, chairwoman for the festival from Pangasinan, Philippines, said the purpose of the festival is to share Asian traditions in dance, food and cultures with the whole family.

"We can connect with them, they can connect with us," Higley said. "We are so grateful that we can share our culture and traditions. Not only are we learning each other, we’re learning also American ways."

Although Higley has spent the last 27 years in the United States, she said her heritage is something that cannot be taken way.

"Whatever you do, I mean, your heart and soul are always there," she said.

As spectators weaved their way around different booth displays they tasted various local dishes and saw traditional clothing, languages and even massage techniques.

Brandon Bouwhuis and Lars Larson, members of Bobby Lawrence Karate, performed in front of a large crowd along with other dancers and musicians throughout the day.

"It's just awesome to see that people appreciate it so much and still remember it," Larson said.

Bouwhuis, 17, said he's always had an interest in Asian culture, particularly Japanese where Karate originated.

"I just feel really honored to kind of represent that," he said.

"It's awesome that we get to be not just here in America and have American things, but to be apart of the Asian culture is just awesome," Larson, 15, said. "To be able to appreciate both of them."

Michelle Faldmo said the Asian Festival is a unique experience for her as a child born in South Korea who was adopted and moved to the United States at 15-months-old.

Faldmo said a trip to South Korea last year motivated her to learn more about her Asian culture and share it with her three children and husband.

"It's really important because that's where I came from," she said. "(My children) don't get to see a lot of it, and we don't have family that is Korean so it's important for them to be around it."

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Sara Jones was also adoptee from South Korea and grew up in Sandy. She said her son often asks her about South Korea and said the festival is a great place to teach him.

"It's really nice to see so many people here," she said. "I'm all in favor of blending communities and having a lot more Caucasians come out and see."

Jones said the festival serves as a reminder to Utahns.

"The Utah community needs diversity and to celebrate diversity," she said. "It's a nice way to remind them that there's a lot of really interesting people that live here and they want to be able to celebrate their cultures."

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com