In his traditional attire, Jaspreet Arora performed an upbeat folk dance from Northern India called Bhangra on the Centennial Park stage Saturday during the 11th annual Festival of Cultures.
Arora was born in Punjab, India. He moved to the United States in 2010 to attend graduate school at Tulane University in New Orleans. He and his wife, Puja, moved last year to Bend, where he works as an engineer.
After the dance, Arora returned to his booth at the festival where he and his wife let passersby try on Indian clothing: kurtas, or long T-shirts; dupattas, a colorful fabric women wear over their clothing; and various pieces of jewelery.
More than a dozen different cultural booths were set up at the festival. Many of the people walking through the booths stopped to watch Arora’s performance.
The dance may have looked familiar to those interested in Indian culture, Arora said.
“It has taken off in the past decade into mainstream Bollywood,” he said. “The past few years actually you could see this routine being choreographed on shows like ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’”
For his first year at the festival, Arora said, he enjoyed the welcoming environment and interest from people stopping by his booth.
“My interaction with people has been awesome,” he said. “They are happy to learn and enjoy the colors and conversations.”
The Festival of Cultures is hosted by the Latino Community Association. A main attraction to the festival in previous years has been an official citizenship oath ceremony. But that ceremony was canceled for the first time this year.
Brad Porterfield, executive director of the Latino Community Association, said the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services stopped doing naturalization ceremonies outside its Portland field office.
In addition, the Latino Community Association is in the process of receiving a Bureau of Immigration Affairs accreditation to assist immigrants in their citizenship proceedings.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services approves that accreditation, and allowing a naturalization ceremony could be seen as a conflict of interest, Porterfield said.
The ceremony this year was replaced with a keynote speech from Madras City Councilor Denise Piza and an interactive cultural trivia contest.
Oscar Gonzalez, program manager for the Latino Community Association, said Saturday’s festival was the culmination of Welcoming Week, an initiative that focused on activities of inclusion and diversity that was supported by the Bend City Council.
Part of Welcoming Week featured a community forum Thursday at St. Francis Catholic Church in Bend. The forum, held for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and their families, offered a chance to speak with immigration attorneys and community advocates about the recent uncertainty of the program. Gonzalez said about 50 people attended the forum.
Between the concerns with DACA and the earthquakes hitting Mexico Tuesday and Saturday, Gonzalez said, many with Mexican heritage had heavy hearts at the festival. But with the music, dancing and sunshine, Gonzalez said, the festival let them celebrate their culture, and other cultures as well.
“That is part of our mission, to embrace each other’s differences so we can appreciate each other,” Gonzalez said.
Among the cultural booths on display Saturday was one for the Japanese American Society of Central Oregon.
At the booth, Ethan Cole, a Japanese teacher at Mountain View and Summit high schools in Bend, and Ami Zepnewski, a Japanese teacher at Summit and Pacific Crest Middle School in Bend, made origami and paintings of fish with high school honors students.
“Any time we can share diversity with the community I think is really important,” Cole said.
Bend residents Tanner and Kate Scrivens strolled through the festival Saturday with their 2-year-old daughter, Hailey. The couple enjoyed some Himalayan food and took their daughter to play in a bouncy house.
Tanner Scrivens, who works as a GIS Coordinator at Columbia Land Trust, said he appreciated spending the day with his family immersed in a variety of cultures.
“It’s just great to see diversity coming out and getting to experience it all,” he said.
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