When Ace Marasigan moved here from the Philippines at age 16, he brought some of home with him, but even more so when he founded the Grand Rapids Asian-Pacific Festival.
Coming up on its third year, the festival is the first of its kind in the city and was a huge success from the start, even bringing in professional sumo wrestlers last year. It’s a unique celebration of the entire community.
But while Marasigan works hard on the festival, he said it couldn’t be done without his family, friends and business partners. In fact, his entire story revolves around them — he came up with the idea with his wife and partially created the festival to better his son’s future here. In his free time, he sings, dances and just hangs out with both of them.
Marasigan also cares deeply about his community and finds ways to rally support around others in need. Case in point: During the 35-day federal government shutdown, Marasigan leveraged his long list of contacts to gather donations to buy pizzas and gift cards to local restaurants and grocery stores for the unpaid TSA agents working at Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
Along the way, his actions inspired dozens of other people to take similar measures to help out their neighbors left without a paycheck for weeks. Pay it forward, indeed.
That’s one of many examples of how Marasigan, who works as a banking center manager at Old National Bank in downtown Grand Rapids, seeks to “deliver something good for the community.”
Can you talk about how you went about creating the festival and making it happen?
I had to ask many, many people to help me. Even though I’m being credited for it, without everyone involved, even all the associations saying, ‘This is a great idea,’ it would not happen. I would just say the passion was there. Maybe people felt the passion that we had to create something like this, and everybody identified with what we’re trying to do. It was not just like Asians saying, ‘Alright, this is really a ripe time.’ We also saw non-Asians saying, ‘You guys are doing something that’s amazing. This is something that the Grand Rapids community really deserves and could really use.’ With that notion, we just went full-force. I could not look back. I just kept pushing and pushing, and for the end result, we just said, ‘Whatever’s going to happen will happen.’
How did it turn out?
The first festival in 2017, I was in tears. At 10:45 a.m., we’re not supposed to start until 11, there’s tons of people, just everywhere people waiting for this to happen. I was in tears, man. I saw the love of the community and community is something big for us. This is where our son’s going to grow up. We want to see a place where he is celebrated and I want him to see people that look like him celebrated in the community as well.
Are there any parts of the festival that you're especially excited about this year?
Actually, I’m more excited for the stuff that’s involved before the festival. We have a whole Asian week happening this year and we are creating different days where we can educate the community. We’re doing like an immersion where we have a Hmong Day. We’re planning to do Korean immersion. So, besides the festival, we want to be able to highlight and really help the community understand certain cultures. I think I’m more excited about that.
What’s the goal of the festival as a whole?
The main goal is to celebrate the Asian-Pacific community and culture, but really to invite all of Grand Rapids to come out and just celebrate, and get to know one another. Hopefully we could strive to learn and maybe in the future collaborate more, and celebrate the differences and push each other to have better understanding.