August 25, 2013

Elk Grove celebrates diversity with Multicultural Festival

Polynesian music filled the air Saturday at Elk Grove Regional Park as thousands turned out for the city's Multicultural Festival.

Polynesian music filled the air Saturday at Elk Grove Regional Park as thousands turned out for the city's Multicultural Festival.

City officials lauded the event as a testament to the city's commitment to diversity.

"The goal is to celebrate who we are as a city," said Scott Matsumoto, a member of the Multicultural Committee, which organized the event.

In one area of the park, adherents to the Baha'i faith told passers-by about their religion.

"This is one of the world's newest religions," said Marc Platz, 63, a volunteer at the Baha'i tent. "It's about the unity of mankind."

Nearby, women in traditional Indian garb danced on stage.

Along another stretch, table after table of distinctive foods tantalized passers-by.

Chicken teriyaki sizzled while caramel kettle corn popped, attracting visitors with appetites.

Dozens of churches, nonprofits and politicians attended, touting their presence to the throng.

Elk Grove, with 159,100 residents, is the 25th most diverse city in the United States, according to a report by Pennsylvania State University. Thirteen most-diverse cities are in California.

Celena Yee, a 15-year-old Franklin High student passing out program guides, marveled at how diversified the city has become.

"There are a lot of other cultures, especially at school," where French, Spanish and Japanese languages are taught, she said.

The Multicultural Festival, in its second year, was a counterpoint to two high-profile hate crimes that rattled the community. On March 4, 2011, two Sikh grandfathers in turbans were killed on their Friday afternoon walk. On June 5, 2011, a gay man was punched in the face at a local bowling alley in what authorities called a hate crime.

Community leaders said they hope the festival heals old wounds and leads the city forward.

"We have to recognize that the city of Elk Grove is culturally diverse," said Orlando Fuentes, chairman of the organizing committee.

City spokeswoman Christine Brainerd put the crowd at roughly 6,000. Organizers estimated about a third of them signed an "Elk Grove Diversity Pledge," which calls for unity, acceptance and tolerance among other ideals.

Most neighborhoods and schools are culturally integrated, Mayor Gary Davis said.

"Because it grew so fast, people moved here at the same time," he said. "It's unlike older communities that have pockets of ethnicities."

Said Davis: "You can break bread, dance and eat. That's what the melting pot is all about."

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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