Metro, News

Heritage Day Festival celebrates 40 years

Country representatives at annual festival showcase cultural backgrounds, including food, music

By
Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hundreds of people gathered on the State House lawn Saturday to eat foods from multiple cultures, purchase homemade crafts and speak with representatives from more than 20 different countries. It was the 40th Rhode Island Heritage Day Festival, an event that convenes each year to celebrate the many cultural communities that make up the state.

The day was chock full of events from noon to 5 p.m. When attendees weren’t walking through colorful table displays, they were watching dancers and musicians —  groups like the Eastern Medicine Singers, the Scandanavian Women’s Chorus of Rhode Island and Ballet Folklorico Guadalupano, among many others — perform.

Country representatives and Boy Scouts opened the festival, marching with flags from each country toward the State House. Mercedes Monteiro, the heritage program coordinator for the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, organized the festival from start to finish, as she has for the past 16 years.

“We don’t have to hate each other. There’s no reason for it,” she said. “I think by celebrating the diversity of Rhode Island, the generations to come will work together. We can celebrate each other without losing our own identity.”

Usually the festival hosts around 200 to 500 people in the Roger Williams National Memorial, but this year the festival’s change of  location to outside the State House made it more visible. Kobi Dennis, festival host and community activist, thought the move might have helped the event draw even larger crowds.

“We try to represent as many countries as we can. As you see, we have people from the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, India — all over the world. And what we try to do is show people the communities Rhode Island consists of,” Dennis said.

Everyone involved, from the table managers to the flag bearers, were volunteers. Many get involved with the festival yearly, Dennis said.

Volunteers get drawn into the festival through its partners. MJ Martins, for example, volunteered to represent Portugal this year. She found out about the Heritage Day Festival through a different Rhode Island event, the Day of Portugal, over ten years ago and has been volunteering yearly ever since.

The Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission’s Deputy Director, Jeff Emidy, emphasized the value of celebrating the state’s rich cultural communities in his opening remarks at the festival.

“My son goes to school in Providence in a community of children whose parents come from places that were unknown to me at that age. It helps him to be a more worldly, passionate and inclusive person. I hope the youngest generations of our state and country have the same opportunities to understand and accept people of different cultures, and that’s the reason we are here today,” Emidy said.