When I decided to participate in PRI/SheKnows’ #womenslives initiative, who knew that attending an ethnic heritage festival would open up opportunities to see diversity in my hometown?
Thanks to Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) that hosted the Ethnic Heritage Festival last weekend, I met and spoke with several local cultural groups.
Prominently located at the front, I stopped by the Vietnamese Language School of Our Lady of Lavang Church. They displayed wooden instruments and traditional dresses. I also learned that the local church holds a Lunar New Year event like many other Asian communities. One of the church members provided information and said that we could come and visit Sunday mass, then attend their New Year celebration afterwards.
I had never seen a zither before, until now:
African Dance Community
I met owner and professional West African dancer, Ms. Jewelynn, who runs a dance company in Grand Rapids. She displayed many African musical instruments and accessories. A native of Grand Rapids, she studied with a professional dance troop in Atlanta for several years before coming back to Grand Rapids and starting her own company.
West Michigan Gaelic League/Irish American Club of West Michigan
By far, I found this group to be the most lively of the organizations because of its free music performance right on the spot. It was so lively and fun!
Impromptu violin playing filled the vast halls of the museum, but the most appealing moment was when I witnessed two different cultural groups playing in sync. That was a beautiful moment.
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A quiet table placed on the other side of the other cultural tables caught my attention early on. I introduced myself to this Bulgarian/Bulgarian-American family. A Bulgarian man immigrated to Grand Rapids many years ago shared his story of how he met his wife and moved to this city. The extraordinary part of his story was that he wasn’t part of a community group or non-profit organization – just a man and his family in search of other Bulgarians who have moved to Grand Rapids and sought to build a Bulgarian connection in this town.
They made cute red and white bracelet crafts, passing it out to those who stopped by the table. Representing long health and long life, intertwined together, Bulgarians would wear red/white bracelets every March when the weather warms up, a sure sign that spring had come.
The Polish community has hosted other events around town in the past. During our discussion, they informed me that they host a Polish festival every August, and its free to the Grand Rapids community. (You know where we’ll be come August!)
Other Group Performances
It’s worth mentioning that the entire day was filled with lovely performances, such as a traditional Greek dance performance from the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. We’ve watched the younger students perform their tradition dance every August at the Yassou Festival coordinated by the church.
Below is another group preparing before they go on stage for their performance.
After visiting for half the day, we ended our visit at the enormous carousel ride.
What a fun and encouraging experience. Seeing various community organizations share their cultural relics and history made me realize that this city offers quite a bit of diversity. In future years, I hope to see other groups come out and share their cultural heritage with Grand Rapids.