By Tammy Curry
Photos Courtesy Mary Helen Hoover
It was fortunate that 21 years ago newly hired Parks and Recreation Director Bruce Davis noticed an apparent change in the Lexington Community. He had served the Lexington Community in prior years as Director for Davidson County Parks and Recreation Department. His return to Lexington, following the retirement of longtime Director, Joel Stutts, was a dream. It was apparent to him Lexington had become a very diverse community. Hoping to find an event to help bring the community together, he had the idea to offer a festival that would showcase the cultural diversity of all the area’s ethnic groups. According to Davis, “I thought that offering an event such as the Multicultural Festival would make the community stronger through educational exhibits, ethnic foods and cultural performances.”
Since its inception in 1996, the Multicultural Festival has grown tremendously in events, attendance, and ethnic food vendors. Tammy Curry, Program and Events Coordinator for the City of Lexington’s Parks and Recreation Department, coordinates the event each year.
“I’ve seen many changes throughout the years,” said Curry. “When I became the event planner for the department, the idea was to transform Finch Park into a beautiful setting that made you feel as though you were in another country. Through sights, sounds of drum beats, and the smell of ethnic foods, you traveled beyond the park. Attendance for the festival grew dramatically when I added inflatables, amusements, community & non-profit areas, school participation, and stages in every village,” added Curry.
The addition of TeenScene was very successful with hundreds attending at its inaugural event, and the Multicultural Festival has become a staple in the community. Just last year, organizers relocated the event to Uptown Lexington to provide adequate parking and accessibility. The move drew the largest crowd organizers had seen to date.
Folks always ask what makes the Multicultural Festival unique to Lexington. It could be that it’s the only cultural event provided by a municipality in the Piedmont Triad area that is inclusive of all cultures. Maybe it’s the authenticity of the performers and exhibits that are provided at each village, or maybe it’s the smiles, laughter, and amazing performances that take place throughout the day. You could also say it’s the educational aspect of giving folks a look into other culture through their lives and history.
According to Nora Dial-Stanley, Native American Village Coordinator and member of the Native American Lumbee Tribe of N.C., “I am excited and honored to be a part of the Lexington festival. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to share our history, stories, songs, and dances with the public. We get to tell OUR story OUR way from OUR point of view.”
Dial-Stanley continued, “It is unfortunate that many untruths, misconceptions, and stereotypes still exist about the indigenous people of N.C.” She believes that the Multicultural Festival is the type of event that showcases what makes all of us unique and productive citizens.
“It is exciting to work with numerous city departments who do a tremendous job with logistics, setup, and safety concerns to make the festival happen,” said Tammy Curry. “There certainly would not be a festival without their help and the vast number of volunteers, cultural exhibitors, and sponsors who contribute so much of their time and resources. Lexington is a diverse community and [our] school systems, businesses, performers, and City Council have embraced [the festival] with so much support.”
Judy Richards, an educator, volunteer, and community advocate agrees. “I believe the Multicultural Festival to be a wonderful asset to our community in that it unites all races and cultures with the intent for each of us to achieve a better understanding of each other. It also increases the positive interaction within the community, and participants get a taste either through food or presentation of the staples within the cultures or communities that are being represented,” she said.
A native New Yorker, Richards has enjoyed getting to know the people and cultures that are a part of Lexington. Richards said she grew up in the “melting pot” of New York with a diverse population that coexists in such a way that she grew to respect and value others. “I can appreciate and become a better person because of what I have learned from other cultures and races. I have become a more global thinker and understand the significance of certain traditions. I am thankful to be in a town that has that same appreciation for diversity, especially knowing that in years past the opportunities for such interactions was limited,” said Richards. As a result she has seen the festival grow and improve what is offered and the numbers of attendees. “There is something for everyone!” she said.
One of the biggest draws to the festival is the participation of schools in Davidson County. “Being part of and participating in the multicultural festival benefits our community and our students. It helps build skills needed to understand different cultures through good food, good fun, and good people,” according to festival participant, Melinda Hedrick.
What is a festival without food? Each year participants search out their favorite vendor. David Andrews, a local, enjoys participating as a food vendor each year. He appreciates that the festival is well organized and has a variety of things people can do. Said Andrews, “I am a vendor at a lot of events throughout the state and the Multicultural Festival is my favorite.”
Multicultural Festival visitors take a trip around the world in just one day by visiting five international venues that include the African-American, Asian, European, Latino, and Native American Villages. The festival also includes the Children’s International Village, TeenScene, and a community and non-profit organizations area. Each village has children’s activities, photo and interactive opportunities, cultural exhibits, and demonstrations. In addition to the villages, the festival has four cultural stages, amusements, inflatables, and a wide variety of ethnic foods and vendors. Other events provided throughout the day include the Purina Dog Show and Circus Stella.
The energy and excitement as the festival draws near is always sensational. Some of the headliners for the event include the Naturalization Ceremony that will take place at 10 a.m. and the Parade of Nations which is a must-see. The Latino Village is the host leading the parade this year. Highlights for the parade include Giant Paper Puppets created by local schools, Kenya Safari Acrobats, a dragon dance, Samba Dancers and more.
Mark Petruzzi, an organizer for events, enjoys taking his children to the festival every year. “The Multicultural Festival starts the same day as the Lexington Farmers Market that I help organize,” said Petruzzi. “I always take care of my responsibilities early, ensuring my children can see the Parade of Nations. It is one of many highlights my children enjoy.”
Thousands travel from all over the state and out of state to perform, visit, and volunteer at this family oriented event that has something for everyone. At the festival you can enjoy the sounds of music, smells of ethnic cuisine, the beat of the drums, and many interactive activities. Come join the fun and experience the Multicultural Festival on Saturday, May 6, 2017 at Uptown Lexington that continues from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.