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Multicultural Festival promotes diversity, acceptance

By Sarah Thomas sthomas@news-journal.com
Oct. 19, 2013 at 10 p.m.

Although turnout was much lower than in previous years, organizers of the seventh annual Multicultural Festival were pleased Saturday as 500 visitors stopped by the Longview Fairgrounds for a look at how other cultures live, eat, work and play.

"It's the lowest that we've had. We've had 3,000 in the past," said Carol Ibarra, festival chair. "Our goal is uniting cultures and people from our community and this is a place where we can do that."

The event was sponsored by the Unity and Diversity Committee and held at the Longview Exhibit Building at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center.

Branden Johnson, president of the Longview chapter of the NAACP, said the festival is designed to give groups a place to share their culture and feel good doing it.

"They can do that here without feeling that someone will say something or do something that will make them feel like they are less of a person," he said.

The lessons learned are tolerance and acceptance of those who are different, he added, saying people from different cultures should blend but never lose their individuality.

"You can be who you are. This is not a melting pot type deal, this is more of a gumbo," Johnson said. "Here people can say 'Yes, I affirm your culture. Yes, I affirm your faith.' "

Participants also used the festival as an opportunity to pass along important information about new voter ID laws and resources within the community.

"We're actually here to see if anyone has had difficulty getting a voter ID," Johnson said.

"We can reach all cultures, all ethnicities and give them education," Ibarra added. "One of the problems we have in our community with people of color and people in poverty is they don't know about the resources available."

Organizers believe the festival grows in importance as the communities continue to diversify.

Gregg County has become increasingly more diverse, according to a comparison of U.S. Census data from 2000 and 2010.

During the 10-year period, the number of Hispanic residents in the county almost doubled and the black population grew by nearly 2,000 residents. The white population shrunk about 3,000 residents, census data shows.

The number of residents listed as Asian more than doubled from about 600 to 1,350 as did the number of American Indian or Alaskan native which rose from 426 at the turn of the millennium to 728 in 2010.

Phyllis Lomax, a vendor who runs the African booth, said the festival promotes diversity and allows her to share various African cultures with visitors.

She sells soaps, jewelry, trinkets and sculpted pieces from Kenya.

"I really appreciate the craftsmanship and the quality of the merchandise," she said. "The people work hard with their hands over there. They are true craftsmen."

The festival highlighted a wide range of cultures in the community ranging from a group of Islamic observants to a Celtic singer to Hispanic and Arabic representatives.



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