By CARA LORELLO
This Saturday, May 19, the Cheney community will be host to a new kind of event where foreign tradition meets local curiosity.
It's something local university and city organizers are hoping will be the start of a new tradition people of all ages and backgrounds can be a part of.
It's the Cheney Multicultural Festival, a project that seeks to forge new partnerships between Eastern Washington University and the city of Cheney through a celebration of the many diverse cultures that make up both communities.
The inaugural event, organized by Cheney's Pathways to Progress and EWU, and funded by a diversity initiative grant from the EWU Board of Trustees, will be held in downtown Cheney from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. between First and Second Street on College Avenue. Attendance is free.
The day's planned festivities offer the chance for people to see, hear, browse and sample from a market of different world cultures, with authentic music and traditional dance performances by local artists and groups, craft bazaars and different foods from Spokane area restaurants featured in the city's annual Pig Out in the Park festival, plus a few Cheney restaurants.
The event's slogan, “One Humanity, Many Cultures” is central to facilitator and EWU Faculty Fellow for Diversity Dr. James Ochwa-Echel's inspiration to organize an activity as a creative way to experience world cultures that make up a diverse and integrated world.
“The main objectives were, one, to establish better understanding between the city of Cheney and the college community here,” Ochwa-Echel said.
“Also, [the event is] a way to celebrate diversity. While we all have our different nationalities, ethnicities, races and cultures, we really are all members of the same ‘human family, and we've more similarities than we do differences,” he added, explaining how he'd come up with the festival slogan.
A native of Uganda, Ochwa-Echel came to Eastern last July with extensive background in international relations and community outreach and teaching.
He was influential in organizing a well-received culture festival at Ohio's Oberlin College, where he was employed as a Faculty in Residence. Students representing 100 different ethnicity groups on campus did most of the displays, including food and festivities. It later became an annual event.
Ochwa-Echel said he's hoping for the same kind of reception from the Cheney community. To his colleague Ruth Galm, EWU Grants and Research Development Executive Director, the project sounded interesting.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Galm said about doing the festival. “I'm optimistic the community will be receptive to it. James has spoken with a lot of the downtown businesses about doing it—they liked the idea.
We're doing a lot to get the word out about it, and we really hope to see people there.”
Ochwa-Echel said last year that one of the aspects that drew him to EWU was its rural location and the administration's increasing focus on diversity initiatives, so it seemed fitting to start a program similar to Oberlin's.
It became clear early on that some things had to change for legal purposes, which made the preparation process slow.
“We did have some problems getting started with how we were going to do the food,” Ochwa-Echel said, explaining how local Department of Health safety codes prevented organizers from having student groups bring, prepare and serve their own food at the festival; a practice that was permitted in Ohio.
“The standards here were a bit too stringent, though we did have students who were willing to do this,” he added.
EWU and Pathways did get in contact with Pig Out in the Park reps to inquire about vendors, though it's not clear what restaurants are on the list due to a condition that guaranteed a head count of 650 people at the event—a figure university officials couldn't exactly promise for a free event.
“We can predict, but we can't guarantee,” Ochwa-Echel said.
Cara Lorello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org