If you looked around Swope Park Saturday afternoon, you saw the faces of a true melting pot.
You heard music from nearly every culture.
You smelled spices from around the world.
More than 50 countries were represented at the 38th annual Ethnic Enrichment Festival, which has roots going back to the U.S. Bicentennial celebrations in 1976.
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For many attendees, the festival serves as a true reminder of what America stands for at a time of cultural and racial divide.
“It’s kind of ironic that we’re here at this festival right now and everyone is celebrating and proud of their different cultures, and at the same time in Virginia there were people celebrating the opposite,” said Kaitlin McDonald, referring to the protest by white supremacists in Charlottesville in which counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed.
“What you’re seeing here is what the majority of Americans feel and the way we are,” said McDonald, who attended the festival Saturday for the first time.
“What’s happening in Virginia, that’s not the majority of America and that’s not how the majority of us feel. This is a better representation of Americans and how Americans feel,” she said, surveying the diverse crowds around her.
For Sam Hessing and her husband, Brandon, the festival is an opportunity to expose their son, Miles, to different cultures.
“Because our son is biracial we feel like introducing him to other cultures is important, and with all the racial tension going on right now in America, it’s even more important and it’s something we’ll have to deal with more than some other families,” she said.
“Hopefully this brings awareness and support. There’s such diversity in the U.S. and to discriminate against people seems crazy to me in 2017. Hopefully these kinds of events bring understanding that we’re all people, we all live here and should all be a part of the community.”
Ernie Rosas, the commissioner for the Philippines booth, has been coming to the festival for years. He said that especially this year, it’s a chance for people to take a break from all of the politics and get their minds away from the U.S. for awhile.
“People here like the tastes of food from all over the world and this is the only place they can get it every year,” he said, everything from chicken adobo to sushi, and bratwursts to Key Siga Wat (Ethiopian beef stew).
The Samoan Pua'a Tao (pulled pork) was a draw for James Ponds. He and his wife have a multi-racial family, including African American, American Indian, Filipino, Hawaiian, Chinese and Samoan backgrounds, he said.
He recently moved back to Kansas City after being away more than 20 years, and said he’s happy to see how much more diverse the city has become since he left.
Events like these help bring people together, Ponds said.
“Here you can get past the tension,” he said. “There’s no animosity, no anger. People are just enjoying what everybody has to offer."