Celebrating our many cultures
Santa Rosa festival marks fifth year of shared traditions

By NATHAN HALVERSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Published: Monday, September 22, 2008 at 7:22 a.m.

Heydon, 17, has spent years learning about her ancestral culture and dance, and was among dozens of youth celebrating their ethnic heritage at the fifth annual Race Equality Week Festival, which wrapped up Sunday in Santa Rosa. From Latino salsa dancing to native Pomo performances to Norwegian genealogy, Sunday's festival treatedhundreds of people to the menagerie of cultures in Sonoma County.

"It's great. You're showing other people your culture," said Gerardo Garcia, 9.

JosephPerez, 8. Photo by Christopher.Chung

Garcia performed traditional Pomo dances with 16 other children. Nine boys danced first, wearing feather-adorned headdresses and playing wooden flutes. Then, girls danced barefoot on the grass in front of the outdoor stage. They wore elegant, billowy dresses of traditional Pomo design.

"You just feel happy dancing," said Joseph Salinas, 9. "It has to do with family, and the rituals that have been passed on."

Many of the children said they incorporate ethnic styles while dancing to modern American music. Heydon says she sprinkles in traditional Chinese dance moves while getting groovy to pop music with her ethnically mixed group of friends.

"We laugh at it sometimes. But it's fun," she said.

To the Rev. James Coffee, who helped found Race Equality Week in Sonoma County six years ago, children celebrating and respecting ethnic diversity is a promising vision of the future.

"Racism is still a major problem in the United States and the world," said Coffee, 75. "It's just that people don't like dealing with it."

Events like the festival are a way to improve things for future generations and weed out the racism that exists among people of all colors, said Coffee, pastor at Community Baptist Church.

"No one is born a bigot," said Coffee, explaining children are taught to hate by adults, who either perpetuate or accommodate racism.

"It's the older folks holding things back now," he said. "Younger generations could care less. Their only color is green -- both the environment and the dollar."

The city of Santa Rosa partnered with the Community Baptist Church six years ago to participate in the weeklong celebration of racial equality that is held across the country.

New to this year's event were health workshops dealing with everything from high blood pressure to mental health.

Of course, no cultural celebration would be complete without food, and vendors representing epicurean delights from across the globe sent smoke rising into the blue sky Sunday.

"It's a wonderful celebration of the various ethnicities we have living here," said city employee Sandra Morgan, lead organizer for the event. "The fact is, it's really about the children."

You can reach Staff Writer Nathan Halverson at 521-5494 or nathan.halverson@pressdemocrat.com.

Original Link: http://www1.pressdemocrat.com/article/20080922/NEWS/809220353