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A GREAT deal of money was spent in Columbus last weekend during the annual Ethnic Expo.
Crowds estimated to be in the 35,000 range flooded the downtown area, partaking of a stunning variety of ethnic foods prepared by volunteers. Many purchased other items unique to their countries.
Some in the crowd were from outside Columbus and stayed at local hotels. Those who didn’t eat at the expo booths patronized local restaurants.
The event launched in 1983 at the urging of the late Barbara Stewart, wife of former Mayor Bob Stewart, has long been viewed as an economic development tool, but not in regards to the money that is spent.
From its inception the expo has been viewed as a way for the community to embrace its diversity, to reach out to residents and visitors from other cultures and make them feel welcome in a town that at the time was largely homogeneous.
As Mayor Kristen Brown observed following this year’s event, the Columbus of 2012 is a much more diverse community than the one of 1983. Over the past decade especially, the face of the city (as literally seen through its residents) has become multicultural. Hundreds of those in newly created positions with Cummins Inc., for instance, represent other nationalities.
Today there are a variety of ethnic organizations representing these cultures and providing members with a sense of belonging and familiarity in their new home.
Ethnic Expo plays an important role for these organizations and their members. When the event was launched in 1983, it was the city of Columbus and its residents who acted as hosts for those from other cultures. Today, those from other cultures have grown in such numbers that they have in a sense become co-hosts of the event.
This changing of roles has been important to the betterment of the community in many ways. In many respects it represents an equalization, as those of different ethnic backgrounds have reached a comfort level in the community where they regard themselves as members of the social structure rather than visitors or guests.
This sense of belonging is important to the community’s future, especially in terms of economic development. By establishing a welcoming atmosphere, the city has built up a network of supporters who, in effect, have become cheerleaders for Columbus in their native countries.
It is not unlike earlier migrations when the first to arrive in a new community often sent word back home to family and friends that this would be a great place to make a new life.
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