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Experience the Knox Asian Festival

The Celebration of Nations Returns After a Two-Year Hiatus

Tokyo native Kumi Alderman was 22 years old when she opted out of her initial plan to become a teacher and instead took a job as a tour guide. She’d grown up not far from Hiroshima and knew next to nothing about the world beyond her home in the Japanese countryside. However, her worldview quickly expanded as she traveled across Europe, North and South America, and Asia. 

“When I was growing up, we went to the Hiroshima museum every year. Our teachers would tell us not to hate people. Hate the war, but not the people. Being friends was the key to peace, so be friends with everyone. My teacher’s words stuck with me,” she recalls. “After that job [as a tour guide], my eyes, ears, and nose opened – and wow, this is the world!” 

Eventually, Kumi got married and moved to the United States to raise a family. The Aldermans came to Knoxville in 2013, after which Kumi experienced two major car accidents that left her unable to bounce back to work. It was a tough time, and her usual cheerful disposition started to sour. 

“When you’re busy working and raising kids, you don’t always think about what you want to do, but I had to sit and wait to heal. I started thinking that if I’d died, no one would’ve remembered me!” she says, laughing. “My family and friends, yes, but I hadn’t given back to the world yet. I wanted to share more of our culture so people could learn about us and we could be friends.” 

Kumi started brainstorming ways to turn her passion into something tangible, and soon her memories of being a tour guide – particularly visiting so many festivals in other countries – sparked an idea.

“At all those festivals, everyone’s guards are down and they’re having a good time, so I thought maybe a festival would connect more people in East Tennessee,” she says. “And maybe we can bring not only Japan, but also China, Taiwan… everyone! I was so depressed from the car accidents and didn’t have positive thinking for so long. It was such a bad time, but once we started talking about doing the festival, that changed. I thought maybe a festival would bring us together.” 

By we, she means her husband, Dave, Christeen Silavong, and their friend Leroy Kautz, owner of Wah Lum Kung Fu of Knoxville. Leroy grew up a student of Chinese Kung Fu and studied under martial arts pioneer Pui Chan, who was instrumental in bringing the Wah Lum style from China to the United States in the late-1960s. Leroy eventually became an instructor alongside his master in Orlando, Florida. By 1994, he and his family settled in Knoxville and immediately started teaching Kung Fu at the YMCA. Within the year, Leroy opened his own school on Carr Street in Bearden. 

“When you look at contemporary martial arts, it’s more about competition and for show. It doesn’t go into philosophy and history, because Chinese martial arts is really about health and peace, moral character, and bettering the self,” says Leroy. “The word Kung Fu means hard working man, skills acquired through hard work and patience.” 

As the idea for the Asian Festival started to take shape, Kumi reached out to Leroy to see how he and his students could participate. 

“Lion dancing is a traditional part of Kung Fu, so when Kumi found out we did that, she wanted it for a potential festival,” says Leroy. “She came over and we had tea, and my mission was both to spread martial arts and the Kung Fu tradition but also to promote peace. Her view of the Asian Festival was to be a friendly way to connect the East and West, so our purposes aligned.”

Leroy and his students perform at the festival each year, showcasing various styles of Kung Fu as well as performing a traditional lion dance. 

With plenty of support, particularly from the international community at the University of Tennessee, the Knox Asian Festival held its first celebration in 2014 at Krutch Park with approximately 20 booths and 3,000 visitors. The following year, attendance more than doubled, so in 2016, they moved the festival to Market Square with 15,000 in attendance. In 2017, the number of festival goers doubled again, then increased to more than 40,000 in 2018. In 2019, the festival moved to World’s Fair Park, added a film festival, and celebrated with more than 60,000 people attending. 

The pandemic kept the festival on hiatus for two years, but it returns this month to World’s Fair Park with 13 countries represented, 28 food vendors, a growing list of performers, and a passport program with interactive activities for kids. The Knox Asian Festival kicks off with a parade of nations at 10 a.m., starting at the park’s water fountain and leading into the amphitheater. 

“People come from all over the country – dancers and performers come in, and visitors have their family members come in from out of town, so it’s like a family reunion for Asian families,” says Kumi, who now serves as the executive director of the Asian Culture Center of Tennessee. “The festival helps connect people with one another, especially international UT students. It’s not just one day. After the festival, they stay connected with one another.”

Kumi encourages families to enjoy all the festival has to offer, especially the food. 

“Young kids are excited to share their culture with friends of other nationalities. It breaks down a barrier,” she says. “I truly believe that kids will remember the food they eat at the festival. They’ll try new things here that they won’t try at home.” 

For a full list of vendors, performers, and activities, as well as maps of the grounds, visit

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Saturday, August 27
Asian Film Festival at Central Cinema
Register Online at

Sunday, August 28
Knox Asian Festival
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
World’s Fair Park

  • Photo by Shawn Poynter
  • Photo by Shawn Poynter
  • Photo by Shawn Poynter