Annual Ethnic Heritage Festival celebrates diversity


Photo by Morgan Anderson

This past Saturday, Feb. 3, over 2,200 people attended the 10th annual Ethnic Heritage Festival at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. The Festival is aimed at celebrating the variety of cultures that flourish in West Michigan, represented through music, dance, crafts and food.

Throughout the day, cultural dancers and singers showcased their abilities in the Meijer Theater at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. These performances included the Chinese Dance Group, PRCUA Malbork Dance Group, SRNB Dance Academy, Kalamazoo College Taiko Team, Ballet Folklorico Sol Azteca, Myra Maimoh, Belly Dance Grand Rapids, KPop Group Evolution, India Link and Imani Singers of Grand Rapids.

“Many times, we may not realize how diverse of a culture we have in the West Michigan region,” shared Christie Bender, Marketing Director for the Grand Rapids Public Museum. “Ethnic Heritage Festival is a way for our community to come together, celebrate each other and our diverse backgrounds, and serves as a platform for these cultural groups to share their traditions with others.”

According to Bender, the 2018 Ethnic Heritage Festival had the greatest number of participants and cultural representations yet, which the Festival hopes to continue to grow in years to come.

One of the organizations at the tables was the ASSE International Student Exchange Programs, which coordinates high school students from other countries to come live with host families in the United States.

“It’s our first year [attending the event],” chuckled ASSE representative Elfi Ristau, “but not our last.”

Ristau shared how, in the past, she first “came as a guest, and brought [international] kids with me, then started a table.”

“We’re attracted to this event because the people who come to this are open to more cultures and make good host families for our high school students,” said Karen Joseph, another ASSE representative.

Other organizations, like the Grand Rapids Scottish Society, have been attending the Festival for several years. Member Ian Warnock shared that the GRSS hosts a meeting the first Wednesday of every month, from September to May. In these meetings, the GRSS discusses business briefly, then continues to an informative presentation or performance on an aspect of Scottish culture. This week, Warnock is planning a presentation on Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland.

There were displays of traditional clothing and other decorations at the tables of other organizations. For example, there was a display of Polish ornaments at the Polish Heritage Society of Grand Rapids’ table.

“In Poland if they didn’t have a lot of money,” described member Marilyn Lignell, “they’d make ornaments out of paper or here this one is made out of milk weed pods.”

India Link offered a selection of traditional Indian sweets and cookies at their table, as well as a selection of books on subjects ranging from yoga to religion.

“If you explain your situation, you can do anything in this world,” shared India Link volunteer Shyam Krishna.