There’s something Mike Suk really wants people to know about the Korean Cultural Heritage Festival: it’s not only for people of Korean ancestry.
In fact, the winner of the annual festival’s K-pop contest in each of the past three years did not have the surname Kim or Park—or any other name common to the Korean Peninsula.
“They were actually non-Koreans,” Suk told the Georgia Straight by phone. “Can you believe that?”
Suk is executive director of the Korean Cultural Heritage Society, which is putting on the 17th annual festival on Saturday (August 4) at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby.
For the past five years, Suk and his father Peter, who heads the organization, have taken pride in their outward-looking, big-tent, intercultural approach.
"Our performers are from all walks of life," Suk said.
The K-pop contest is one of the big draws, with the winner taking home a $2,000 cash prize.
Another major attraction is a demonstration by top martial artists from the World Taekwondo Academy (also known as Kukkiwon) in Seoul, South Korea. This will take place after the opening ceremony at 10 a.m.
The Kukkiwon academy is the world headquarters for taekwondo, overseeing more than 35 million members, according to Suk.
In 2015, he was instrumental in persuading Burnaby city council to declare that August 8 is Taekwondo Kukkiwon Day in the city.
Suk said that the taekwondo martial artists are returning to B.C. for the Korean Cultural Heritage Festival because of this connection made three years ago.
When they were at Swangard Stadium last year, Premier John Horgan stood on the mat and smashed a board with his hand in front of an appreciative crowd.
Suk emphasized that the festival promotes awareness of traditional and modern South Korea, which has morphed into one of the coolest countries in the 21st century, according to author Euny Hong.
Another objective of the festival is to showcase other cultures, which is why Suk has programmed entertainment ranging from belly dancing to blues and rock ’n’ roll. There are also kids’ zones and plenty of Korean food, including barbecued beef known as bulgogi.
“All the directors of the Korean Cultural Heritage Society, their wives, and all their sons and daughters will be helping out at the barbecue stand,” Suk said. “You get the homemade Korean cooking.”
There is no admission charge to attend the festival. And for Suk and the 200 society volunteers, the goal is to forge connections in the community, not to make money.
“The millennials should not look to make a billion dollars,” Suk declared. “They have a billion dollars already all around them by the relationships that they foster.
“The people around you and the relationships that you connect with are your fortresses that protect you and guide you,” he added. “Anybody that’s a part of this organization knows they’re in this not for profit but for giving back and making solid connections.”