Dancing at the Aloha Festival

Member of a traditional Hawaiian dance group from the East Bay perform Saturday at the fifth annual Napa Valley Aloha Festival at Napa Valley Expo. “It makes me smile,” said dancer Susie Fernandez.  The Manaleo Hawaiian Cultural Foundation puts on the festival to celebrate and raise awareness about Hawaiian culture. Kerana Todorov/Register

Thousands gathered at the Napa Valley Expo on Saturday to enjoy a full day of all things Hawaiian at the Napa Valley Aloha Festival.

For hours, Hawaiians from throughout Northern California and non-Hawaiians alike relaxed as they watched Hawaiian dances, listened to music, and ate barbecue, pineapple on a stick, shaved ice and other treats.

“I love the Hawaiian culture,” said Chris Dilley of Napa as she ate piña colada shaved ice with ice cream. She came to the festival with two friends from Berkeley, she said. “It’s really nice that they have it out here,” she said of the festival, now in its fifth year.

A group of musicians created the Napa-based Manaleo Hawaiian Cultural Foundation in 2007 to organize an annual festival that would raise awareness about Hawaiian culture, said Napa resident and ukulele player Jerry Gillgren, who grew up in Southern California but loves the islands and their culture.

“Hawaiian culture is so rich,” said Gillgren, an information technology specialist. “And so we decided that we wanted to share this culture.”

“We try to keep this festival as Hawaiian as possible,” added Gillgren, who estimated the event’s budget at about $12,000.

The foundation also awards $1,000 scholarships annually to students interested in Hawaiian studies, he said. Festival volunteer Hi’ilani Wright of Antioch was one of this year’s two recipients.

Wright, 27, said she likes to learn about the Hawaiian native fabric kapa, and network with fellow Hawaiians.

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The festival is centrally located and easily accessible, she said during a break. “It’s such a beautiful place to be,” added Wright, who was at the fairgrounds with her parents.

Alex Luthi, who grew up in Napa and now lives in Pittsburg, volunteered at the festival with his wife, Jessica, who is of Hawaiian heritage. He’s getting more involved with the festival because he and his wife want their future children to be able to experience Hawaiian culture, he explained.

Visitors included the “Pacific Savagez,” a motorcycle group that includes many Pacific Islanders — among them Isabelo “Snapz” Bito, a Filipino-American psychiatric technician at Napa State Hospital, and Vallejo resident Ken “Shoey” Shoemaker, who was born in Oahu and works as a water treatment operator in the East Bay.

“It’s just relaxing,” Shoemaker said as he watched Hawaiian dancers.

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