In the late 19th century, the term "yellow peril" was coined when Chinese laborers were brought to the United States to replace emancipated Black communities as a cheap labor source. Wichita was a benefactor of that wave of laborers. But Wichita turned its back on the Asian community and made attempts to drive the Asian community out of the city, according to an article published in the Great Plains Quarterly by Julie Courtright, an American West historian. Wichita’s Asian community stood together to fight for their people and their rights during this time of racism and discrimination.
The Wichita Asian Association (WAA), founded in 1981, has continued that fight. The volunteer-driven organization exists to promote cultural awareness, foster an understanding and appreciation of Asian cultures, strengthen awareness among youths of Asian ancestry and provide opportunities for expression through diverse Asian cultural arts. One of WAA’s gifts to the community was establishing the first Wichita Asian Festival 41 years ago. This festival, held every October, is a way to show the community that despite all the hardships and adversities the Asian community has faced, they have persevered and added to the cultural landscape that is present-day Wichita.
The WAA works to make Wichita a place where the Asian community feels comfortable and safe, but also a place for visitors to get a taste of the local Asian culture. What started as a group to assemble a small Asian festival has blossomed into something not even the WAA could have imagined. In the past two years, WAA has dramatically advanced its festival, which is now the largest Asian festival in Kansas, along with numerous admirable ventures such as volunteer work, philanthropy and giving back to the community.
WAA's president, Taben Azad, is passionate about focusing WAA's attention on advocacy for members of the Asian community. In many cases, this means advocating for a seat at the table, for equal opportunities, representation and areas of fundamental human rights. WAA has also expanded its reach to give back to the community by presenting scholarships for Asian American students at the Wichita Asian Festival. However, their drive does not stop there. WAA also hit the ground running with planning and organizing the first Asian Night Market in May 2022 to celebrate Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month.
WAA's future is full of hope, joy and anticipation. One of the main goals of WAA is to preserve the Wichita Asian culture. They hope to accomplish this by educating youth and eager students about the beautiful traditions, cuisine, clothing and culture of Asian people. Along with preserving culture, WAA plans to expand Asian culture where they can, with more Asian-owned businesses and making a difference within their community. Taben said, “The work that WAA does in the community is vital for current and future generations to understand, celebrate and educate others about our culture and diversity. Being able to provide a sense of community for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will always be the mission of the Wichita Asian Association for years to come and will serve as a valuable piece of Wichita's future growth and success.”