By Avni Nijhawan
Hundreds gathered at CSU East Bay here for the 11th annual Fiji Festival held June 30-July 1. Attendees enjoyed Fijian food, Bollywood performances, a car show, a beer garden, a whimsical “Island Night” of entertainment, and a variety of South Asian wares sold by local vendors.
“There’s great food, great entertainment, (and you) get to meet friends,” Hayward resident Raj Nand told India-West, “and it’s just a good way to chill out.”
The festival began in 2002, said organizer Davendra Kumar. “There was a call to unite the community,” he said, noting that the Fiji Islander population in the Bay Area is 25,000 people.
“Every year we see a lot of friends – just once a year,” said Kishore Kumar from Sacramento.
Others came for a more educational experience. Anne Walter, a kindergarten teacher in San Leandro, came to the festival to “learn a little more about the culture of Fiji,” she said, since some of her students are from the island.
But the highlight of the two-day bonanza?
“Soccer,” said Hayward resident Ishana Mohammad, referring to the festival tournament that takes place every year. Like many others, Mohammad — an avid soccer fan — attended the festival mainly to watch the 14-team tournament.
“Like cricket in India, it’s soccer in Fiji,” festival attendee Raj Sami told India-West.
“It’s all about ‘do or die,’ said Feroz Ali, a spectator from Daly City, as he watched a match that went into overtime. “They all want to get the trophy.”
Ali and his friend Sheakh Sahib, from San Mateo, noted that the artificial turf at the campus makes it especially challenging. “It’s very competitive … they’re putting 110 percent effort,” Sahib said.
A car show has always been an integral part of the festival, and features a variety of cars, from restored vintage vehicles to heavily modified pickup trucks.
“It’s a very small island, and everyone takes pride in what they own,” said San Leandro resident Shareef Khan, explaining the relevance of a car show at the Fiji Festival. Khan brought his 1960 Chevy Impala to the show, adding that many “trick out” their vehicles in whatever way they can.
Khan has brought his car to the show for the last six years. “It helps support my roots, where we’re from,” he said.