August 16, 2014

Ethnic Enrichment Festival draws thousands to Swope Park

Food, crafts and entertainment representing 43 countries around the globe are turning a field near Starlight Theatre into the site of a multicultural celebration this weekend. The festival continues Sunday.

Amid a bevy of wares at the Ethnic Enrichment Festival, Mack Durham zeroed in on a small mahogany mask, hand-carved by an unknown woman in Kenya.

Destined to hang on his wall — “somewhere” — the mask will be his souvenir of the 35th annual event, held each August in Swope Park. Durham’s companion, Amy Andree, said this was a return visit to the festival because “I love it.”

The mask’s seller, Irene Mumbi Kagiri, who on other days operates the New Century Imports store in Overland Park, was doing brisk business in her booth, selling jewelry, statues, purses and other items made in Africa.

Her tent was one of a geographer’s mishmash representing 43 countries around the globe. Haiti and Ukraine shared a spot. Greece sat between Jamaica and India. Italy was sandwiched by Ecuador and Gambia. International aromas fought for supremacy among the ethnic food offerings.

Festival manager Jim Wilson, a volunteer running the nonprofit event, said organizers estimated the Friday night crowd at about 7,000, despite rain. Another 20,000 to 25,000 were expected to pay the $3 gate fee Saturday, and an attendance of 15,000 to 20,000 was forecast for Sunday.

The festival, primarily sponsored by Kansas City’s Ethnic Enrichment Committee, featured nonstop musical performances on the bandstand, where hundreds of visitors filtered in and out and sat on hay bales. The schedule started Friday night with a Czech and Slovak group and was scheduled to end Sunday night with a group representing India.

While Durham was making his Kenyan purchase, members of the Scandinavian Folk Dancers of Kansas City were on stage for Saturday’s kickoff performance at noon. The group, made up of people who have Scandinavian roots or just like to dance, practices every Tuesday night in Westport and gives about a dozen performances a year.

Dressed in traditional costume, including heavy woolen pants, Tom Jongeling — who actually is Dutch-German — fought the humidity along with fellow dancers. Dancer Henrik Andersen, who grew up in Denmark, said the festival is a good way to expose people to year-round events that recognize ethnic heritage in Kansas City.

Kagiri said that connectedness is important. She said her store, which also sell spices and other goods made in Africa, serves as “a hub for Africans in the community to get together.”

For the weekend, at least, the field near Starlight Theatre was the metro area’s hub to rub cross-cultural elbows … or just eat some barbecue. This is Kansas City, after all.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com.

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