Boston Dragon Boat Festival celebrates Asian American culture and heritage

The 40th annual Boston Dragon Boat Festival kicked off on the banks of Charles River on June 9. Thousands of spectators watched hundreds of participants paddling along the river while enjoying Asian snacks and cultural performances.  

Known for being the oldest dragon boat race in North America, the festival gathered race teams from all over the places for its two-day event.

Golden Dragons Paddling Club traveled from Portland, Oregon to take part in the boat race. “This is my first time racing in Boston but some of our teammates were here 10 years ago,” paddler Cathy Waterman said. “The organizers provided us with dragon boats so all we needed to bring is our paddles,”

There is also a number of local dragon boat teams eyeing for a big game day. Living Root, a dragon boat club based in Boston, has been racing around the world for more than 10 years.

“We train all year around–indoor during the winter months and outdoor in the summer,” coach Kaila Bachman said. “We just came back from Puerto Rico. Next, we hope to go to France for the world dragon boat championships.”

Dragon boat race has its roots in ancient Chinese tradition that commemorates the life and death of the great patriotic poet Qu Yuan. Now a significant holiday for the Chinese diaspora worldwide, people celebrate the day watching races while treating themselves with sticky rice dumplings.

Yuning Hu graduated from Boston University in May. Thousands of miles away from home, she decided to celebrate the tradition by paddling with other compatriots.

“It is my first time sitting in the dragon boat. We got 1st place in group 6 with only 10 times of practicing,” Hu said.

The main stage for festival goers sets the Cambridge side. People enjoyed Chinese, Indian, and Filipino dances while lining up for bubble tea and other Asian street food.