More than 30 countries and five continents will be represented at the eighth annual Multicultural Diversity Festival Thursday, March 6, from 6-9 p.m. at the Broken Arrow Community Center, 1500 S. Main St.
The free festival, presented by International Cultures for Education (ICE), the PTA and Lynn Wood Elementary, will feature cultural foods, dancing, costumes and representatives to share about their culture.
As one enters the festival, they will receive a passport. At each booth they visit, their passport will be stamped and they will be able to sample cultural foods and learn about other people groups. The festival is fun for the whole family, no matter what country of origin one comes from.
The festival began as the vision of Felisa Hilbert, event organizer and ELL bilingual assistant at Lynn Wood Elementary, as a way to celebrate the various cultures represented in Broken Arrow.
“Last year, we had 58 different cultures represented in Broken Arrow,” Hilbert said. “Initially, the festival began as a way to get more minority families involved in the schools and the PTA.”
Hilbert, who was born in Mexico, says many families in which English was their second language, were hesitant to get involved in their children’s school or the PTA.
“We wanted to reach more parents,” she said. “But, many said they didn’t understand when they came to the meetings. Our first Multicultural Festival started with 10 parents.”
While only 10 parents signed up initially to be presenters, more than 350 parents came to the festival the first year. By the second year, they outgrew the facility that they were in and moved to the Tulsa Technology Center.
However, this year, an event was already scheduled at Tulsa Tech, so the event will be held at the Broken Arrow Community Center. People will be coming from several communities and cities to participate.
“Last year, 1,200 people attended the festival,” Hilbert said.
Over the years, Hilbert said she has seen the influence and participation of the English as second language families grow.
“The best part is to see the self esteem of the parents,” Hilbert said. “These shy parents come alive talking about something they know.”
Hilbert is also inspired by the kids who are learning more about their own culture, as well as that of others.
“What I really want is for kids to not forget where they are from,” she said. “We are doing this for the kids.”
Hilbert said kids should never be ashamed of where they are originally from.
“It is OK to embrace America and learn about it, but we also need to embrace our past,” Hilbert said. “When you teach kids about other countries, it inspires dreams and travel.”
She says cultural awareness is about learning to relate to others.
Follow Lesa at @lesajbaledger.