SANTA ANA — For 55-year-old Martie Myers, the main attraction was a chance to sample all the different kinds of food. For 12-year-old Edie Tiscareno, it was trying his hand at the carnival games and enjoying the rides.
They were among 5,000 people of varied ages and distinctive backgrounds who came from across the Southland on Saturday for "Thank You, America," a weekend festival at Rancho Santiago College.
The purpose of the three-day event, which ends today, is to celebrate the diversity of the immigrant communities of Orange County and for the immigrants collectively to thank their adopted country.
"Many of us forget the opportunity that this country has given us," Enriqueta L. Ramos, president of college's board of trustees, told a crowd gathered at a colorful stage Saturday. "It is so important that we remember how lucky we are. Today we say, 'Thank you, America!' "
The celebration, whose sponsors include Rancho Santiago, the Asian American International Chamber of Commerce and Los Amigos of Orange County, featured not only food, games and rides, but also music, costumes and exhibits reflecting various countries and cultures.
Chau Nguyen, who attended with his wife and two daughters, said he was pleased that his family's day out proved to be educational as well as fun.
"I found that here," the 30-year-old Orange resident said as his 8-year-old daughter, Ngoc, clamored to ride the Ferris wheel.
"Something like this can show our children what unity among different cultures means," Nguyen said.
"I like it that Ngoc is able to look around and see the different people from different countries and, of course, the different food--children love food," he said with a laugh.
Adults enjoyed the sumptuous food too, nibbling their way from booth to booth. As San Juan Capistrano resident Myers put it, she "spent the whole time eating."
She said she especially enjoyed the Vietnamese pate chaud, a flour pastry filled with ground pork and spices, then baked to a golden brown; the Korean barbecued chicken; and pancit, a Filipino noodle dish with carrots, onions, celery and various meats and spices.
Lucy and Francisco Cancel took a break from operating their own booth, which was promoting cosmetic surgery, to browse among the food stalls. "We'd just have to try one of each," Francisco Cancel, 38, said as he surveyed all the choices.
"I like it that so many different people can celebrate together," said Lucy Cancel, 37. "I think they should do more of this kind of celebration in other cities too."
Organizers said their hope is that a multicultural festival will eventually be held nationwide.
"I'm sure many have had an idea like this before," said Richard Thanh Van Vo, a Westminster businessman who last year came up with the idea for the festival.
"There are many immigrant success stories. We owe a lot to this country and to the people who welcome us here. It will only be a matter of time before celebrations like this will be everywhere."