Here’s How Stephanie Reese Turned her Dream and Vision into Bainbridge Island’s First Asian Heritage Festival!


By Denise Stoughton

That Stephanie Reese dreamed the month-long Asian Heritage Festival into being, proves that sometimes really big ideas come in small packages! The Island Wanderer sat down with Stephanie to learn what inspired her to bring the first-ever Asian festival to fruition.

Stephanie Reese, second from right, with friends

Simply put, “I am Asian!” Stephanie exclaims with a good-natured chuckle. With the last name Reese, Stephanie is aware that people she reached out to during the idea and planning phases of the month-long event may not have immediately understood her cultural connection.

The Asian Heritage Festival will play out during the month of May at various locations on the island and include cultural events, along with food, presentations, and entertainment. It will officially kickoff at this season’s first Moonlight Market during the evening of Friday May 3 at Town Square.

“My dad is half Caucasian and half Japanese, and my mom is half Filipino and half Chinese. I’m kind of the whole festival in one!” explains Stephanie, who has performed in cultural festivals throughout the world as a singer and actress. While touring, she loves mixing with different cultures, eating local foods and learning new customs. It’s precisely those same experiences that she hopes to bring to the Bainbridge Island Asian Heritage Festival.

Stephanie, who grew up in Seattle and married to long-time island architect Matthew Coates of Coates Design, challenged herself to go beyond the role of performer to producer, becoming the person who executes a vision, and a dream. While perfectly positioned culturally, Stephanie’s role as an Arts & Humanities Bainbridge (AHB) board member and a participant on AHB’s Bainbridge Creative District committee was a huge help. Those associations made it possible for her to take advantage of the organization’s connections as the mechanism through which the festival could happen.

Stoughton, along with Reese Jackie Muth and Bud Britanico, V-P of Sales for Philippine Airlines

Having energized AHB with her festival idea, it’s been all hands-on deck, she says. AHB board members, staff, community volunteers, partner organizations and businesses have “enthusiastically rolled up their sleeves to pitch in.” Stephanie describes the activity as “an amazing journey of discovery” as she forges working and personal relationships with the local Japanese, Filipino, Indipino, Chinese, and indigenous peoples.

As she educated herself about local Asian American communities, Stephanie felt even more strongly that a festival is an engaging and vibrant way to inform and honor her shared heritage from a standpoint of celebration. While somber in our remembrances of the hardships endured resulting from colonization, Stephanie posits that by joining in joyous celebration of the rich history, present day contributions in art, food, storytelling, performance, the festival will provide opportunities for happy exchanges, and for creating new memories together.

At the Moonlight Market on Friday May 3, AHB will herald the month-long festival with paper crane origami making, giveaways, and fun photo ops.

Also at the Moonlight Market, folks can pick up festival brochures, purchase tickets to the individual events and buy raffle tickets at $10 each. Stephanie says she  “is super excited about the raffle prizes,” which include a round trip ticket to Manila on Philippine Airlines as well as a round trip ticket within the Philippines from Manila to the beautiful resort town of Cebu City.

Stoughton, Reese and a Philippine Airlines Representative

Other raffle prizes include two VIP Kraken tickets, two tickets to the Sounders with a signed jersey, a one-night stay at Suquamish Clearwater Casino, a handmade Japanese inspired quilt by Alice Wells, along with a bottle of wine and books authored by local Japanese authors like Dylan Tomine, Satsuki Ina and Mitzi Asai Loftus. The raffle will raise money to help put on next year’s festival as well as to help pay for some of this year’s expenses.

The calendar of events throughout the month include bingo night at the Filipino Community Hall, forest bathing in Blakey Harbor Park, Mitzi Asai Loftus’ author talk at Eagle Harbor Books, a showing of the film “Honor Thy Mother” at BPA, as part of the Filipino/Indipino Heritage Night, the annual Strawberry Festival, talks and book signings by Dylan Tomine, Satsuki Ina and Clarence Moriwaki at the Bainbridge Arts & Crafts Gallery/Eagle Harbor Book Store, and the finale festival event at the Filipino Community Hall, where there will be a plethora of entertainers, singers, dancers, art vendors and food trucks!

Stephanie has turned out to be a tiny but mighty force, the little engine that could and has, say AHB board members. To her knowledge, she says the Bainbridge Island Asian Heritage Festival is the only festival in the state of Washington during the month of May (the nationally recognized Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Month), dedicated to all Asian communities and not just one in particular. For more information on the festival and to purchase ticket, visit the AHB website’s festival page.

Just this week, Denise Stoughton has been named part-time Executive Director of AHB. Her email is

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