Oakland has Fruitvale, Chinatown, and Koreatown; San Francisco is home to a head-spinning array of ethnic neighborhoods and groups. But there are immigrant communities tucked away in all corners of the Bay Area. Hayward, for one, is home to a thriving — and growing — Fijian population, according to Davendra Kumar, president of the Fiji American National Association, based in Union City. Of the 70,000 to 80,000 Fijians living in the United States, some 30,000 have settled in the Bay Area, largely in South San Francisco and, increasingly, Hayward, Newark, Fremont, San Leandro, and surrounding cities. As a result, the region has become the de-facto center of gravity for Fijian immigrants to the United States. It's a close-knit and proud community, said Kumar, and this weekend brings one of its biggest events: the annual Fiji Festival USA, which takes place Saturday and Sunday, July 3 and 4, on the grounds of Cal State East Bay (25800 Carlos Bee Blvd., Hayward). Now in its ninth year, the festival — one of the largest of its kind outside of Fiji — has come to be a much-loved and well-attended cultural event, drawing thousands of Fijians and other Pacific Islanders from all over California and as far away as Canada.
"I think it means a lot to the community to come together under one spot, one umbrella," said Faizal Ali, a member of the festival's organizing committee. "It brings us together and gives us an opportunity to enjoy good food and culture, entertainment, sports; share knowledge; meet new friends."
Planning for this year's event began in December and involved a small army of volunteers and sponsors. All the effort seems to have paid off, as the festival is dizzying in scale and scope: Over the course of three days, there will be a car show, a baby beauty contest, dance and other cultural shows, various recreational and spectator sporting events, a health fair, a parade, live DJs, dozens of vendors selling traditional crafts and food, and the 2010 Miss Fiji contest. For the first time, the event will be held in conjunction with the Fiji Muslim Sports Association's World Cup, which draws soccer players and fans from throughout the Fijian diaspora. It's all designed to showcase the island nation's rich cultural traditions for Fijians and non-Fijians alike. "Everyone is welcome," said Kumar. "It's pretty neat." Tickets are $4 per day. 510-780-9699 or FijiFestival.com
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