The welcome mat is out.
The welcome mat is out.
When the New Americans Festival takes place from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, at the North YMCA, 1640 Sandalwood Place, it will be as much a chance for "old Americans" to meet and greet their new neighbors as it will be for members of the many refugee and immigrant populations in central Ohio to showcase their cultures and backgrounds.
"This is our focus this year, to really get the American-born population out and dispel some myths about immigrants and refugees," said Laura Berger, director for development for Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services, the host organization for the event.
"It's through learning about your neighbor that we can come together and appreciate one another," said Nadia Kasvin of US Together, a mutual-assistance agency she co-founded in 2003 that works to resettle immigrants.
"In our mission statement, the last two words are 'for all,' " said Malik Wayne More, director of social responsibility for the YMCA of Central Ohio. "We know that if we're not taking intentional efforts to welcome our newest Americans, then we're probably not being 'for all.' "
For Kathy Chen, executive director of the Northwest Side-based Asian American Community Services, an event such as the New Americans Festival also is an opportunity for recent arrivals to learn about the organizations that exist to help them make sometimes-wrenching adjustments.
"Lots of challenge that new Americans face when they come to the United States are cultural issues and economic issues," Chen said. "An event like this, all of us getting together ... it lays it out on the table for the people to see. We can help them with the transition, make it smoother."
The New Americans Festival fills a cultural need for refugee and immigrant communities, according to the website of Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services, a nonprofit that assists this population.
According to the organization, learning a new language and culture and establishing a new life in the United States puts pressure on immigrants to assimilate, which puts them at risk of losing the traditions and cultures of their homelands. The New Americans Festival offers an opportunity to share these cultures with others.
"This year is just bigger and better," Berger said. "We have two years under our belt, so we expect more than 3,000 people."
New to this year's festival will be Dr. Brian Kvitko of Clintonville, broadcasting his radio show and offering free oral cancer screenings, Berger said. Ann Fisher, host of the "All Sides" program on WOSU-FM, will lead a discussion on housing for new Americans, and the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center will have a booth at the event.
Community Refugee and Immigration Services employees will offer a simulation game in the YMCA's gym. Participants will be given a small amount of money and then challenged to find ways to spend it to make the kinds of purchases someone new to this country would need.
"It's to show how very little money they get in welcome money and how difficult it is to furnish an apartment," Berger said. "We'll be working to improve that simulation each year, but it's definitely for the American-born to understand a tiny bit of the resettlement process."
Performers from eight different immigrant communities will put on shows and demonstrations at half-hour intervals throughout the festival.
"We have some communities that have interesting instruments, instruments you've never seen before, and then we have some communities that tell stories about their country," Berger said. "It's about people who can't afford to have their own festival. This can be the launching festival to have their own. It's not fair when you can't afford a festival and yet you want to show your heritage and your culture to Columbus."
Also involved in the planning and execution of the Sept. 10 gathering are Community Refugee and Immigration Services, World Relief Columbus, US Together and Jewish Family Services.