Tess Anisco’s hands were a blur as she fried batch after batch of lumpia egg rolls.
She and the other cooks at the Awesome Egg Rolls tent had already made hundreds of the traditional Filipino rolls that morning. But a huge line waited in front of their tent, and they were struggling to keep up with demand.
At that moment a man approached Anisco.
“I got an order of 300 lumpia,” he said. “Can you handle that?”
They both laughed.
“I’m just kidding,” he said. “But these are amazing.”
As he walked away, Anisco beamed.
“I’ve always wanted to share these egg rolls with Nebraskans since I moved here,” she said. “It’s one of those things where if you put your heart to it, you’re going to figure out how to do it.”
Egg rolls weren’t the only thing Anisco wanted to share with Nebraskans. After living in the state for 14 years since moving to America from the Philippines, she spent the past year planning the inaugural Nebraska Asian Festival, held between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday at Lewis & Clark Landing on the Omaha riverfront.
Despite a rocky start, complete with rain and a generator going down for several hours, the festival was going pretty well, Anisco said. By early afternoon, hundreds of Asian-Americans and non-Asian-Americans had gathered by the Missouri River for food, fun and celebrations of the many Asian cultures represented in Nebraska.
To the woman who put it all together, it was just what she’d envisioned.
“I wanted everybody to learn more about the Asian culture and I wanted to unite all Asians,” Anisco said. “But this is not just for Asians — I wanted this to be for Asians and everybody else. This is a good start.”
On the other end of the festival, Ray Petersen agreed. Petersen, who led a group of traditional Chinese lion dancers in a performance that morning, said that while many Asian-American communities in Nebraska hold events for their specific cultural groups, there are hardly any big pan-Asian cultural events in the state.
“The overall Asian community in Nebraska is so small that it’s difficult for anyone to have any big events, and the events out there are put on by small entities and they end up being very private because of that,” he said. “There’s nothing this size done often, so this event has a lot of potential to grow and be very important to our community.”
Joseph Siu, who moved to Omaha from Hong Kong about 10 years ago, was encouraged by Saturday’s festival. He said more events like it would help the small but growing Asian community in Nebraska connect with non-Asian neighbors.
“Some of my colleagues would like to know more about Chinese culture, but the majority don’t know or don’t seem to be interested in cultures outside the Midwest,” Siu said. “I think things like this could maybe make them more interested in learning about us and bring (us) together.”