Children jumped around in a bounce house, blew bubbles and soaked each other with water guns – a welcome reprieve on a sunny summer day.
Adults danced to live music, shared laughs and rubbed each other with baby powder – a cultural sign of geniality.
Everyone enjoyed the food – from fried bananas and spicy chicken kabobs to Burmese dishes like mont lone yay paw, or sugar-filled rice balls.
The second annual Burmese Water Festival, a celebration of the Burmese New Year, drew several hundred people to Grant Street on Saturday afternoon.
Clean water symbolizes the new opportunities of the new year, and the West Side neighborhood was awash in the spirit of joy and pride.
The Burmese New Year falls in mid-April, but at that point it is too cold in Buffalo to hold a festival, said Zaw Win, one of the event’s organizers.
Win said he and the other Burmese community leaders who organize the event do it for two reasons: to celebrate the new year and to educate their children and younger generations about their Burmese heritage.
“Every year we are here, we never forget our country,” said Win, who has been in the United States for nine years and co-owns Westside Value Laundromat. “It is important to show the new generations where we are from.”
Win was a political prisoner in Burma – now known as Myanmar – for five years, from when he was 18 until he was 23. He was an activist for freedom in a country known for poor human rights conditions, human trafficking and forced labor.
William Lee, who also came to America from Burma in 1997, is a New York City businessman who travels to Buffalo for all Burma-related events. He teaches people how to manage money – a skill of critical need in the immigrant community. He considers his efforts to educate and inspire Burmese immigrants “a grass-roots movement.”
“When we come to America, we have big dreams,” said Lee, who is the senior marketing director for World Financial Group in Flushing. “And then later, our dreams shrink. I try to show people that even though you have obstacles, you can do big things.”
Burmese musicians performed during the festival as people danced onstage and in the crowd. Burmese clothing and accessories were for sale in the vendor tents.
Attendance was free, as was the food. At one point, a man who identified himself as homeless asked Win for money so he could eat. Win directed him to a tent that featured a buffet line of food options, including bubble tea to wash it all down.
Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera and North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. co-sponsored the event, with five local organizations: Golden Burma Asian Market, Journey’s End Refugee Services, West Side Bazaar, Sun Restaurant and Linn Asia Market.