Celebrating Diversity

Photo by Greg Eans, Messenger-Inquirer.com | geans@messenger-inquirer.com Lily Hubbard, 15, with the River Dragons out of Henderson and Evansville, leads the People’s Parade with a Chinese dragon during the Owensboro Multicultural Festival on Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018, at First Presbyterian Church. The parade is a tradition during the festival in Owensboro.

When the Multicultural Festival kicks off Saturday, Aug. 17, at 10 a.m., it will mark 21 years for the event held at First Presbyterian Church, 1328 Griffith Ave.

And for Veena Sallan, her participation goes back to the inaugural year as an original planning committee member and again for this one.

Although Sallan said she hasn't been on the Multicultural Festival's committee every year, she has been involved in some way.

"It has grown in size, of course, we have more attendance, but also in ethnicity and more participation from local groups," Sallan said.

The Rev. Christine Coy Foyr, pastor of First Presbyterian, said the Multicultural Festival has become an important event for the church.

"Part of why we do it is because we believe that all of the diversity in the world is God-given," Foyr said. "It's a gift and something to be celebrated. It's a way of living out what we believe by having this, giving people the opportunity to learn and build the community together."

The free public event began in 1999 when Winny Lin, First Presbyterian Church member, wanted to celebrate diversity in the community. Lin moved to California in 2014 to be closer to family.

And since its start, the Multicultural Festival has been successful in meshing the community's different cultures with the various religious faiths.

Foyr said people from other religions shouldn't be afraid to commune.

"I think we're so much stronger when we're together and when we can understand one another, can learn from one another and can appreciate one another," Foyr said. "I don't think the festival is trying to settle anything theological at all. I think it's trying to say all of these people are children of God and our brothers and sisters."

Sallan said a new feature added to the festival last year was opening with blessings from the faiths represented there.

"We plan to do this again and then start the parade of nations," Sallan said. "…People from different faiths come forward and we say the prayers for the world and, of course, for the community."

In years past, about 15 cultures were represented at the festival. Among them were Mexico, Thailand, Bolivia, Burma, China, Czech Republic, Haiti, Japan and Slovakia.

According to Debbie McCoy, chairwoman of the event, those who attend the festival are often surprised by the number of cultures living within Owensboro and Daviess County.

"Since we've been doing this festival, I notice it a lot more than I did before," McCoy said. "There's a lot of diversity here that you don't necessarily notice unless you're looking for it."

This year's festival will include live entertainment from a blues band, Indian and Latino dancers and the Bluegrass Children's Theatre. There will also be information booths, face painting and the Owensboro High School drama club will demonstrate how to make props.

Food trucks will be available as well.

Sallan said she's proud of what the festival has become.

"It celebrates multicultural foods, languages and ethnicities," Sallan said. "You can see the beauty in Owensboro with all of these people mingling and enjoying the today together. It includes the minority and majority and that's what this is all about."

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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