by Lindsay Ducharme
The Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo marks the return of the Multicultural EXPO February 15th, an event organizers tout as having the ability to take you around the world.
“The EXPO is supposed to give people the whole world in one place. We say you can travel the whole world on one ticket,” explained Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo executive director Mary Thomas.
The EXPO has exploded in popularity with over 2,000 people in attendance last year.
Thomas attributes the burst in attendance in part to the increase in population, but more importantly due to the Multicultural Association’s ability to engage the diverse variety of cultural groups within the community.
“We have really built relationships with these cultural groups. Before it was very disconnected and many groups thought nobody was interested in them and so they didn’t see any purpose in exposing themselves to the community. They would have closed meetings and have closed events for any celebrations related to their cultures, but they never thought it was something that the external community would be interested in,” she explained.
“What we have been able to do is engage these groups, build relationships and make them realize how exciting it is for people to experience other cultures. We have now been able to engage Iran, Ethiopia, Botswana, Kenya, Mexico, Somalia, along with others. Many of these countries weren’t represented before.”
As attendance has grown, so too has the event. What once was composed almost solely of traditional dance performances with a smattering of cultural cuisine offerings has expanded to include an array of true cultural experiences.
“We have 24 different cultures in total involved with this year’s EXPO. We have aboriginal cultures and we have lots of different ethnic groups from different parts of the world,” Thomas said.
“This year we have two fieldhouses booked because it’s much larger. Each booth will have their own food right in their booth along with different experiences. There will be tea ceremonies, piñatas from Mexico, Japanese calligraphy. This year the event is going to be more than just eating and watching dance performances, it’s going to be an experience. We are trying to give each person the experience of each country they find themselves in. When they walk into the booth we want them to feel like they are in that country. We are trying to engage all their senses so we will have some music, an actual learning experience, food and performances,” she added.
The expansion of this year’s EXPO is a fitting recognition of the association’s work in the region for the past 30 years. “This year we are hoping to have people experience cultures in a deeper way by listening to different languages, hearing their music, learning some dance steps, and wearing costumes from a large variety of cultures.”
To aid in the attendees getting the most out of the event, organizers have decided to stagger the dance performances with 30 to 45 minute windows between them.
The Multicultural EXPO will be held from noon-5:00 p.m. at MacDonald Island on February 15th. Admission for adults is $5, children under age 12 are free. For more information visit the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo’s website http://www.multiculturefm.org/news-events/upcoming-events/multiculturalexpo2015.