Festival showcases ‘beauty’ of cultures in Lawrence

The smell of ethnic food — Ethiopian samosas, Panamanian tamales, Navajo tacos — and music filled South Park on Sunday, marking the fourth annual Festival of Cultures.

Cultural representatives set up booths Sunday, offering residents a taste of their country’s food, history and culture.

Baha Safadi, chairman of the Lawrence Alliance, which hosted the event, said food and music create the perfect way for residents to showcase their ethnic backgrounds.

“The whole point is togetherness and for the city of Lawrence to showcase its beauty,” said Safadi, who moved to Lawrence from Jordan 35 years ago to study at Kansas University. He said he fell in love with the city’s diversity and acceptance and decided to stay after graduating, a sentiment he said is shared by other international students.

Participants walked through the park to see each booth’s offering: Almost all had food, and some featured jewelry and clothing. Music and dance acts performed on a pavilion throughout the day.

Latin America had a strong presence at the event, with representatives from Mexico, Panama, Bolivia and other nations. Haskell Indian Nations University Student Senate President Joel Hernandez cooked Navajo tacos — cheese, lettuce, beef and beans served on fried bread — with other Haskell student ambassadors. KU’s African Student Association offered food from Nigeria and Ethiopia. Mahire Yakup and Gulnar Eziz, two Uighur women from northwestern China, showcased handmade scarves that they brought from their home country. Representatives from Ukraine and the Islamic Center of Lawrence also attended.

The festival turned out a diverse crowd, and multiple languages could be heard over the background music.

Runita Bell, of Lawrence, and her son Kyseer, 8, said they appreciated the unique experience.

“It’s something Lawrence should do more often,” Runita said. “It’s good to educate people about different cultures.”