of the Richmond Area is not surprising to anyone who
has lived here long enough but most of the people
living here are surprised to learn about the many
festivals celebrating ethnic backgrounds. There are so
many organizations found in this city, they are almost
never publicized and
In need of support...
these organizations do an amazing job co-ordinating
some of the most amazing celebrations. It is a feat
coordinating the famous Celtic Festival and Highland
Games - where, in Richmond, Norh American pros
converge to compete in the strenuous athletics - and
working together, our community does it! From the
Asian American Celebration to the Annual Oktoberfest
locals put together grand displays of heritage, pride
is what keeps all these organizations going. It is
tough raise literally hundreds of thousands of dollars
to orchestrate the efforts of an entire community,
simply to celebrate. But that's not all. Many of the
local chapters take pride in raising money through
festivals and bake-sales in order to sponsor community
projects, memorials and in order to spread community
awareness. Recently the local chapter of the Irish
worked in conjunction with the Daughters of the
confederacy to erect a memorial to the thousands Irish
immigrant children killed or maimed by machinery in
Food is a big deal...
"Schooling is so very important, lack of precision is so very prominent, there is opportunity for everybody in this country and my son does not realize how lucky he is." said Simon Rinthalukay when asked about when he first came to The United States. Between the politics of war and peace, the economy and whether or not we're going to still have benefits or Social Security in the near future; finding a moment's peace is getting harder. Most people are balancing the bills and the household, holding a job and figuring out how to raise the kids right, a seldom few can find the time to think about themselves let alone other people from other countries. Sure, there's the immigration issue, but that's politics! No one really thinks about the neighbors; the fact that they're from, ... where was it again, ... someplace Asian...?
It is surprising that as diverse as Richmond is, cultural heritage is still a concept so very foreign. It's not like Richmond is isolated either. It seems every time you turn around in this city there's another party, festival, celebration, club meeting, fund-raiser... the list goes on! Diversity in Richmond, is so overwhelming when you're a small town farm girl stoppping to look around. The people, their heritage and their organizations, as well as all the cultural pride that comes with, it's all over the place.
"I don't think people realize their heritage, they come to an event and get curious and start researching" said Gloria Cahen of the Irish American Society of Greater Richmond. "That's how lots of people get involved with any number of the events we have in Richmond." And that involvement is why so many cultural organizations hold so many events year round here in Richmond.
From the annual Oktoberfest, to the local organization of Arabs in Richmond celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan, there's a reason to celebrate Richmond every day and there's always a celebration to take part of in Richmond. And speaking of celebration, what's any even without fabulous cuisine! The saying goes; that food is the way to a man’s heart, but it is obviously also the way to draw and win over a crowd.
The annual Greek Festival, which prides itself on the thousands of pounds of food it cooks annually for the thousands of people who annually attend, serves Gyros, Souvlaki, Dolmades, Shrimp, wine, lemonada, Baklava and so much more, they even offer a drive through during the week of the festival. It seems that every year, more people attend than had the previous year and with good, or rather delicious, reason.
There are other reasons to attend local festivals than food, heritage and entertainment, there’s the excitement of experiencing another ethnic group’s joys and learning what their ways are all about. There are different people all around, and yes, they are friendly. The annual Folk Festival, known also for it’s diverse and enjoyable music and atmosphere, is notorious for its diversity. People from all over the globe attend representing their culture, their ways, their music and their life-styles.
“And that’s the nice part about the festivals here in town” says Barbara Robinson, a festival frequent “We all come here together. That’s what people are celebrating.” With drum beats in the background one patron begins to feel the emotion and the soul of a culture with a deep and wonderful history.
“You can’t help but get into it, the song, the dance,” says Arthur Brill, a returning patron of Richmond’s Oktoberfest. There’s no avoiding it, the music gets into you and takes over “the next thing you know, you’re smiling and enjoying yourself.” Says Brill. The festivities continue to lure more and more people as the too-few days pass quickly and as the beer flows generously. And while a lot of people think it’s about beer, it’s actually about the harvest and the culture.
No matter where you go at any of these events, you find yourself immersed in a culture and an experience that is truly unique and entirely enjoyable. And the people are involved in so much, the German American Society, meets to sing and teach each other German, among their other local projects. The Asian American Society of Central Virginia has consistently offered support and funded festivities such as the Asian American celebration and other programs in order to teach youth and adults alike about Asian languages, cultures and tolerance.
But none of it would happen without the efforts of so many Richmonders. So many organizations work together on project after project, no only to celebrate, but to make Richmond a better, more beautiful, place to live where the people are more knowledgeable and the streets are safer for all.
Since when did paying the bills become more important than anything else? Remember the need to have a good time, no matter the cost? And every once in a while the feel of finding yourself immersed in something, utterly clueless as to what's going on and smiling that strange 'I can't get enough of this' smile. What happened to people having a good time? What happened to enjoying and celebrating simply being American.
When Saysamon Rinthalukay, leader of Richmond's Laotian Community, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping laotians be successful citizens, was asked to recall first comming to the United States, he said "Schooling is so very important, lack of precision is so very prominent, there is opportunity for everybody in this country and my son does not realize how lucky he is." He recalled being in Laos, a beautiful country tucked between Thailand and Vietnam, and having escaped wrongful persecution by somehow geting to a refugee camp in Thailand. He earned a degree in economics and French in the hope of escaping to France. Instead, his brother got him to the U.S. where they both biked to work and to English classes. "Cartoons taught me the local speech better" he recalled.
We smile at the mouse dancing across the screen as the cat nearly catches him but plows into a wall. The music in the background is light-hearted and fast-paced, primal and deep. You can hear the drums beat and the feet pound the ground in practiced repitition as the Annual Asian American Celebration kicks off another beautiful, cultural, and moving display of traditional dance. Music grabs the attention and inspires the joy of everyone young and old. And it seems the more traditional, the more of a hit it is going to be. No matter the ethnic background people all over the reigon flock to such events like this for the music. A prime example is The National Folk Festival which will be celebrating this October the last of the three-years it designated for Richmond and which traditionally showcases a variety of cultures and customs.
"I got a car and it was a big mistake. I had not thought about insurance, I didn't even have liscence" Sasamon recalls. For years he worked and biked and even sponsored other refugee and immigrant families, claiming it was important someone who knew the culture did this. You have to know to not put hotdog and hamburger in the fridge, "Laos like sticky rice and we're the only ones who do. It is more filling." But even stocking his own fridge was a challenge without a car; "I was used to going and getting things from market and carrying back. The people [here] looked at us strange for carring our groceries."
It is surprising that as diverse as Richmond is, cultural heritage is still a concept so very foreign. "I don't think people realize their heritage, they come to an event and get curious and start researching" said Gloria Cahen of the Irish American Society of Greater Richmond. "That's how lots of people get involved with any number of the events we have in Richmond." And that involvement is why so many cultural organizations hold so many events year round here in Richmond. From the annual Oktoberfest, to the local organization of Arabs in Richmond celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan, for so man there's a reason to celebrate every day.
"I was lucky" says Sasamon, "to come to this country." He worked as a translator for Laotian refugees in the court system and said it hurt to see so many of his people, used to the kind of persecution he escaped and o know they were being sent back to it for making mistakes here. Sasamon reasoned; "I help. It is my civic duty. My wife does not like it [...] but I tell her I make a promise, I not break it." And throughout the years he has led Laotian associations and organizations. The first one was successful in bringing together a support group for Laos in the area "...but too many people wanted to misuse it, to use the money and go back and liberate our country. I had to dissolve it." And in 1991 he gave everything they had to a Buddist Temple. "Fish, eggs, sticky rice, our fridge is filled with basics [...] we stay the same way, we are not used to [immediate gratification,] where I come from a person needs something they go fetch it."
They offer a drive-through during the week of the festival. If food is the way to a man’s heart, and obviously also the way to draw in and win over a crowd, then the annual Greek Festival, has conquored the hearts of thousands. They prides itself on the thousands of pounds of food cooked annually for the thousands of people who annually attend. Serving Gyros, Souvlaki, Dolmades, Shrimp, wine, lemonada, Baklava and so much more, It seems that every year, more people attend than had the previous year and with good, or rather delicious, reason. Drawing a crowd all to celebrate Greek ways, Greek heritage, Greek food.
From The Annual Oktoberfest to the Asian American Society, the French Film Festival, to the Italian Street Festival, all come together celebrate just that - coming together. No matter where you go at any of these events, you find yourself immersed in a culture and an experience that is truly unique and entirely enjoyable. And what of Sasamon? You may even find him sitting at a booth at just such a festival, teaching others about his culture and heritage, complaining about kids these days and smiling that smile of his. "I am lucky to come to this country." He says; and he would preferr no one ever forget it.