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The biggest Thai festival to ever be held in Minnesota's history will go ahead this weekend.

The Minnesota Songkran Festival will take place at the state's capitol grounds on May 28-29, the work of the Thai Cultural Council of Minnesota. The free event is a celebration of Thai culture and food, according to the event's website.

The Thai New Year, or Songkran, is one of the most celebrated holidays in Thailand and southeast Asia, and "is celebrated through community, elders and the concept of unity with food and music."

Tracy Schultz, a project manager with the Thai Cultural Council of Minnesota and operations manager of Amazing Thailand in Uptown, said this is the largest scaled event they have ever planned. 

"We've been involved with different Thai New Year celebrations over the years, but the Songkran Festival is by far our biggest," she said. 

Schultz, from Elk River, got her start with the restaurant and then bounced to other jobs, where she was eventually laid off during the pandemic from an agency job. She then returned to Amazing Thailand, where she says she is "thankful for the opportunity to be involved with a culture that are so warm and welcoming."

Event organizer Korawan "Yin" Muangmode says above all, it's the impact of the festival that matters most.

Muangmode is the president of the Thai Cultural Council of Minnesota, Board Director at Wat Promwachiraya in St. Louis Park, and operations manager at Amazing Thailand in Uptown. Both Schultz and Muangmode expressed their passion to bring on a "bigger and better" coverage of the culture and festival to Minnesota. They have held similar events in the past along Hennepin Avenue in Uptown; Muangmode said last year's event had about "12,000 people."

Many from across the state, bordering states and even some family members of Muangmode are expected to attend this year's event in St. Paul. Muangmode is from northern Thailand, and moved to New Richmond, Wisconsin as an exchange student when she was 17 years old. Her family also made the move with her, and still lives there today.

"Learning English was the hardest part, and frustrating at times. But, I kept studying hard and [obtained] my Master's Degree in training and development at [University of Wisconsin-Stout]," Muangmode told Bring Me The News. She said she first got involved more with Thai people in Minnesota by landing a job at Amazing Thailand and formed a family-like relationship with the owner, Kulsatree Noree, going forward.

Both Muangmode and Schultz say a culmination of meeting community members at Sunday markets held at Wat Promwachirayan in St. Louis Park and other events held throughout the year celebrating the culture has culminated in this weekend's celebration.

Korawan "Yin" Muangmode (left) and Tracy Schultz.

Korawan "Yin" Muangmode (left) and Tracy Schultz.

Hope people experience 'Asian joy'

Other activities festival-goers can anticipate include cultural performances, traditional arts and crafts, a photo booth, Muay Thai, a papaya salad eating contest, a Thai temple blessing booth, regional exhibits, an authentic tuk-tuk and samlor to take photos with, and more. The winner of the papaya salad eating contest wins a cash prize of $500.

Muangmode explained that on average, about 100 people apply for the papaya salad eating contest and only 15 contestants are selected. The contest has been held at previous, smaller Thai New Year events. 

"It's always the must-see event at our events," Muangmode noted. "People absolutely love it."

Most of the artwork at the festival will also be directly from Thailand. 

Schultz said some of the performances will include Thai Khon Drama, which is described as "a performing art that combines musical, vocal, literary, dance, ritual and handicraft elements," according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

"What opera is to Italy, Khon is to Thailand," Shultz explained. "It's never been performed here and requires a lot of years of study." 

Event organizers are also still seeking volunteers to help with the festival. Muangmode said she expects "around 200 people" to help out. 

A lasting impression Muangmode wants people to take away from this event: "Asian joy."

"In the last two years, it's been very hard for the Asian community, regarding the rise of Asian hate," she said. According to the FBI, Asian-related hate crimes rose 73% in 2020, and 339% in 2021. 

"We want this to be a festival of healing, make reconnections [with one another] and have everyone come together."

A sneak peek of the event will be held on Thursday at the Granada Theater in Uptown. The council will also hold an a street food festival in September called "MinnesoThai."

Visitors can attend the event from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on May 28, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 29. 

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