LYNNWOOD — Martha Sanchez, 10, beamed from ear to ear with a smile. “Look mama,” she said in Spanish, displaying two strips of paper where her name had been freshly painted for her in both Chinese and Singhalese.
“What is Singhalese?” Sanchez asked in English. “It’s what they speak in Sri Lanka,” said Marla Counsellor, the assistant director for the International Student Services department for the Edmonds Community College.
This group was just one of many weaving its cultures throughout the new Lynnwood Convention Center Saturday, April 30.
The Center opened its doors to the public for the first time with the Family Support Center of South Snohomish County’s fourth annual Multi-Cultural Fair.
The fair offered live entertainment such as the Halau Hula O Moani Mokihani, the Leela Kathak dancers, the Cladach Irish dancers and Morning Star Korean dancers among others. It had a variety of booths from far off places such as Germany, Japan, Eritrea, France, Singapore, Portugual and more. While all of this was going on upstairs, student chefs from the Edmonds Community College Culinary Arts department and the Convention Center’s executive chef prepared non-stop samples of a variety of international tastes and also supplied recipe cards for those interested — all for free. In the next room over, volunteers filled the tables in the room with yarn, material and others craft supplies teaching participants how to make items such as kites, African quilts and Chinese calligraphy.
“It’s been a huge success … it’s bigger and more diverse than ever,” said Pam Graham, program coordinator for the FSC and co-creator of the fair.
There was a large, diverse representation of the community in the volunteers who made the event happen, said Claudia Dickinson, director of the FSC. This included a large representation of the disabled community as well.
“It speaks to the richness of our community,” Dickinson said. “We are richer than the money in our hands.” She added, “This is about people stepping up and saying ‘let’s really get to know each other.’”
Sanchez’s mother and father, said they were overwhelmed by the information and all the different types of people at the fair.
“We didn’t know there were so many people like us, so close to where we live,” Rene Sanchez said, translated through his daughter. “It’s good to see all the different types of people here … it makes me feel happy.”
Sanchez said his family has lived in the United States for five years and has recently bought their first home in Mountlake Terrace.
Graham said this awareness is an example of why the fair is so simple and yet so important.
“They’re not all alone, there is support out there and opportunities for connections with the community for individual, parents and their children,” Graham said.
This special kind of intermingling was exactly what Graham and Lynnwood resident, Marilene Richardson, a woman of American Japanese decent, hoped would/could happen in South Snohomish County.
Four years ago the two discussed the need for a free forum where people of diverse backgrounds could come together and learn about each other in a comfortable atmosphere. Just months after that conversation they found themselves in the middle of the first Multi-Cultural Fair.
“We wanted to get people together eyeball to eyeball learning about each other connecting and creating community — it was our whole motivation,” Richardson said.
They hoped four years ago it would take on a life of its own.
“This has been the least stressful event,” Graham said. “The partners are so involved and have increased.”
But they never imagined it would be offered in a facility like the new convention center, Graham said.
Lynnwood City Council member Lisa Utter, who has also been involved in organizing the fair since it started, said “It is great to have an invitation and a free party for the public to open this major, new building.
“The collaboration of the Family Support Center, the arts, culinary arts, the Edmonds Community College, the city, the convention center and the many other organizations that are here is wonderful and I look forward to more community events here,” Utter said. “It is a beautiful building and I’m proud to have it define how visitors see us in Lynnwood.”
Eddie Tadlock, the general manager of the convention center, said center officials are considering having the annual Multi-Cultural Fair take place there again.
“Every walk of life is here at this fair and they belong to businesses and organizations and groups which need a place to meet,” Tadlock said. “This is more than a convention center, it is the center of this community, and I like to think of it as a catalyst to putting Lynnwood on the map.”
Lynnwood and South Snohomish County are not only on the map now, they are also included as a place where a very diverse population resides, according to latest census reports.
Joseph Jiang, from Lynnwood, a second generation Chinese man (he was born in China and then moved to the United States), brought his two nieces, both first generation Chinese (born in the United States) to the event. He said he thought the fair was “fantastic.”
“The whole world is a village — America is a diversified culture country,” Jiang said. “And now you just need to take a single step into this event to learn about the whole world.”
His nieces, Erica Chang, 12 and Vicki Chang, 7, both students at Cedar Valley Community School, carefully looked through each and every booth and participated in most of the activities during the five-hour event.
The two were scrunching up their noses as they smelled the residue from the henna tattoo they’d just received from Sukhraj Sandhu, an Indian woman from the local Desi Club.
The ink used for the henna is made from a natural plant grown in India, she explained, and that’s why it gives off an earthy smell of sorts.
Vicki Chang said her favorite part about the fair was making an African quilt. Erica Chang said she won’t soon forget watching all of the dancers.
“It was unique and pretty and the melody was unique and pretty too,” she said.
The only noticeable challenge the convention center opening had was as people were coming or going in its parking lot. There weren’t enough places to park. Even with the help of the Lynnwood Police volunteer group, Citizens Patrol, folks were waiting for spots and parking in places designated for the other businesses. Many found notes attached to their cars with a warning: “If you parked here again, you will be towed.”
Even so, people were laughing and the sounds of “ghungru” bells wrapped around young girls’ ankles from the Leela Kathak dancers group passed by as one person said to another, “This is neat, we picked a good place to go today, didn’t we?”