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Irvine's Cultural Diversity Is Found Extremely Palatable

Food from around the world is a big draw for 4,000 at the city's second Global Village festival.

June 22, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

With soft tones of a Native American flute in the background and plates of Persian and Thai food on the table, Adrienne Domash was saying at Irvine's second annual Global Village festival Saturday that the city is wrongly perceived as lacking in diversity.

"Once you get here," she said, "you find that there's a lot of cultural diversity."

"And it's cool," said son Benjamin, 9. "There are so many different people, but they're all doing the same thing."

Mayor Larry Agran noted that Irvine is "blessed with a great mix, not only from all over the country, but from all over the world."

It's one of the things that lured Venu and Latha Srakki, from Bangalore, India, to Irvine, the couple said.

"We see that in our children's school, when we go shopping, in our neighborhood," Latha Srakki said.

And for the second year, the city is celebrating that diversity with the festival.

Last year, about 2,500 people attended, said George Searcy, community services superintendent and chairman of the event. This year, the turnout was expected to reach 4,000, which made for lengthy lines at the booths where ethnic foods were offered free with the price of admission.

The visitors didn't seem to mind as they waited for a plate from the Persian restaurant Caspian, Thai Spice, Crepes de Paris or 12 other eateries providing samples of their cuisine.

Twenty-four ensembles and artists performed on four stages, including the African ensemble Adaawe, Celtic Fire's traditional Scottish dances, the Arpana Dance Company's traditional Indian dances and the UC Irvine Spanish Dance Ensemble's flamenco dances.

Visitors were also treated to Japanese flower-arranging shows, salsa demonstrations and dancers from Armenia, China, Hawaii, India, Korea, Romania, Tahiti and West Africa.

In addition, 25 arts and crafts booths were selling such goods as African masks and baskets, treasures of India, antiques and even Hello Kitty collectibles.

The idea of holding the festival grew more than two years ago from the ethnic mix at the city's two senior centers, Searcy said.

"The increasing diversity of Irvine first showed up at the senior centers," Searcy said.

Many of the young executives, professors and engineers who moved to the city brought their parents with them, he said. The seniors, representing the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe, started forming small clubs and holding little festivals with food, crafts and music.

Then, someone suggested that they have one big festival. That was six years ago, Searcy said. The seniors held their festival twice in those six years, before the city hosted it last year.

The city underwrites a large part of the festival's cost, and the festival will continue as long as the city can afford it, he said.

Steve Spanier, who moved to Irvine from the Silicon Valley with his family, said he hopes that's a while.

"It's important in particular for children in this country to understand a variety of different cultures so they can know their place in the world," Spanier said.

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