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There were young men in sombreros selling tacos, Austrians serving up schnitzel and a volunteer at the Pakistani tent who had traveled from his home in Texas to help a Columbus-based friend serve Tandoori chicken to the masses.
It was all part of the 30th Annual Ethnic Expo, which brought thousands of people to downtown Columbus for two days of music, food and entertainment celebrating cultures from around the world.
“It just confirms the richness of diversity we have here in Columbus,” said Rocio Rodriguez, a native of Mexico City and director of human resources with Cummins Inc.
She also is president of the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization, a former president of the Latin American Association and president of the board of Su Casa, a nonprofit that helps under-privileged Latinos cope with life in the United States.
Rodriguez, who helped organize more than 40 volunteers for the Mexico food tent near Washington and Second streets, said all the sales of soft tacos, coconut desserts and Brazilian churrasquinho (meat on a stick) came with a noble purpose.
“All the money will go to fund college scholarships and other helpful programs offered by Su Casa (translated as ‘Your House’) in Columbus. We help people read contracts, deal with landlords, take English as a Second Language courses,” she said. “This is fun, but it isn’t just for fun.”
Rodriguez said Columbus is a welcoming city that readily accepts people from foreign lands.
“I have felt very welcomed,” she said. “And when people hear my accent and ask where I’m from, it often starts a conversation. It’s as if my being different has made it easier to make connections. This is a great community with great people.”
Keep ’em coming back
Pakistan-native-turned-Texan Rizwan Gillani liked his first Ethnic Expo so much four years ago that he has made the trek from his home in Dallas every year since.
It started when a friend of Gillani’s was going to be married in Chicago. The information systems specialist decided to use the trip to visit a close friend in Columbus.
“I figured I’d see my friend, then drive to Chicago for the wedding. My friend said he’d be busy that weekend at this international festival downtown, but I was welcome to hang out with him there. I did, and I keep coming back,” Gillani said.
Gillani is sort of a multi-cultural expo in his own right — a melting pot personified, he said.
He was born in Pakistan, moved to Saudi Arabia when he was 1 year old and then to Kansas at the age of 14 to attend a boarding school. He stayed in the United States for college at Mississippi State University and now lives in Dallas.
“I don’t know what culture I belong to,” he said. “I like American football and cricket (a national sport in Pakistan).”
Gillani, wearing blue jeans and a peach-colored, embroidered Pakistani shirt, said the Ethnic Expo is a great exercise for a city the size of Columbus.
“It exposes people to the richness of other cultures and all that we have around the world,” he said. “When I am here, I love talking to people about the culture and tradition of Pakistan.”
The expo also exposes party-goers to good food.
For instance, Pakistan’s tent featured biryani, a spicy dish with saffron-flavored basmati rice; samosa, a puff pastry stuffed with potatoes; and spiced tandoori chicken in a yogurt and lemon sauce.
Fords to floats
In addition to good deeds and exotic dining, Ethnic Expo featured a Caribbean Mardi Gras-themed street parade in honor of host nation Trinidad and Tobago. The host designation rotates to a new land each year.
Families began lining downtown Columbus streets two rows deep shortly before 11 a.m. Saturday for the parade, a colorful potpourri of homemade floats, Model T Ford vintage cars and dancers wearing giant feathered costumes representing Trinidad and Tobago. The elaborate costumes were created by Detroit-based Caribbean Mardi Gras Productions, and a steel drum band dubbed the Dream Team kept the beat going strong.
Parents with children as young as 5 months old came prepared. Children, a few in costume representing their parents’ homelands, were hoisted on shoulders or tucked snugly in strollers along Washington Street.
Adults stood on the sidewalk, relaxed in lawn chairs or found an empty spot curbside to view the parade, which stretched from Third to Eighth streets and along Washington and Brown streets.
‘City is so diverse’
Columbus native Ashley Kayto watched marchers on foot — and a few on roller stakes — with her toddler daughter, Brynlee, in tow.
“This city is so diverse; I learned that growing up here,” said Kayto, attributing the influx of foreign cultures to engine-maker Cummins, which hires engineers worldwide and brings them to Columbus on assignments.
Kayto planned to take a stroll toward First Street later in the day, where 29 food tents were shoe-horned into a two-block area west and south of Columbus City Hall.
“My boyfriend likes Indian food, and I like all sorts of Asian cooking,” Kayto said. She planned to try steamed vegetarian dumplings from Vietnam for starters.
Nearby, Brent and Kelly Clem watched their oldest son, high school band member Luke Clem, march past with dozens of other musicians in the Columbus East High School marching band.
“This is a great event. It’s something fun to do,” said Brent Clem, whose family has been coming to Ethnic Expo for at least a dozen years, starting when their now 14-year-old son, Logan, was 2.
The Clems would not have time to dine at the international food tents, however. As soon as the parade ended, the family headed to Plainfield, where the Columbus East marching band was to compete later Saturday.
Farther down Washington Street — across from The Commons — Cummins retiree John McLachlan watched the parade with his wife, Connie. McLachlan, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, has lived in Columbus nearly 40 years.
“In the early days, we used to volunteer and be part of the expo,” McLachlan said, leaning his back against an office building’s facade. He estimated at least 3,000 people lined the parade route under clear skies and amid mild temperatures.
“You get to know a little something about all these (countries),” he said.
Where are they from?
The following countries and cultures were represented at the 30th annual Ethnic Expo
Trinidad and Tobago
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