A world of unity: Expo symbolizes togetherness that celebrates diversity

Brianna O'Leary uses an umbrella to shield herself from the rain as she checks out the different booths during Ethnic Expo in Columbus, Ind., Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. Mike Wolanin | The Republic

Umbrellas opened along with hearts Friday as a soggy 36th Annual Ethnic Expo international festival launched in downtown Columbus.

At least that’s the way South Korean native Kenneth Shim saw it as he watched various visitors — Latinos, Asians, Indians, you name it — walk along First Street amid the lineup of 35 food booths representing global cuisine.

“People know this is always going to be fun, regardless of the weather,” said Shim, treasurer of the Columbus Korean Association operating the South Korean booth. “This is a great time of everybody gathering together with everyone from different cultures and just being friends. It’s also a great time for people to share parts of their culture.”

In his case, that meant overseeing two small and smiling Korean youngsters holding sizable and steaming free samples of specialty dishes such as dumplings and rice and also barbecued beef. But he pointed out that the association sponsors programs on Korean culture throughout the year through the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization.

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Expo, launched in 1984 by late first lady Barbara Stewart, aims to allow the city’s international residents, often brought here for work with corporations such as Cummins Inc., to share their culture with others. Plus, Stewart wanted to help those residents feel more comfortable, especially when they were missing their homeland.

Organizers with the city of Columbus estimate that 25,000 people yearly attend the two-day festival highlighting food, music and an international bazaar with everything from jewelry to jackets. Friday’s lunchtime crowd looked to be slightly smaller than last year’s which also ambled about in a misting rain.

But the aroma was similar, with the smell of grilled chicken kabobs from several Asian booths mingling with wafts of roasted almonds from a German booth.

At the host country booth for India, Prem Jha, among a team of volunteers from the Indian Association of Columbus, mentioned that most of the volunteers are used to holding optimism in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Expo will continue rain or shine from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. today with a forecast of sunny skies and a high of 59 degrees.

“We are definitely hoping that the weather will improve,” Jha said.

Rain forced all of Friday’s entertainment to be moved indoors to The Commons.

Jha pointed out that the India menu is at least double the size of last year’s with various kinds of curry and also specialties such as masala dosa being prepared fresh as people walk up and order. That dish is made with rice, lentils, potato, methi, and curry leaves, and served with chutneys.

Today, the India booth at First and Washington streets will feature a range of live entertainment and a re-creation of an Indian market, according to organizers.

Bryant Lee, attending his first Expo because he just recently moved to Columbus, loved the world-of-diversity atmosphere.

“I really like just seeing all the different ethnicities here,” Lee said as he looked up and down First and Washington streets at people of various backgrounds. “I think this is awesome.”

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11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: Expo parade on Washington Street to Third Street to Brown Street.


Noon – 12:30 p.m: Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums – City Hall Steps

1 – 1:45 p.m.: Bollywood Dance Workshop – City Hall Plaza

2:15 – 3:15 p.m.: CAMEO Columbus Got Talent Winners – City Hall Plaza

3:45 – 4:15 p.m.: Southern Indiana Taiko – City Hall Plaza

4:30 – 5:15 p.m.: Taiko Workshop – City Hall Plaza

5:45 – 6 p.m.: Bollywood Unlimited – City Hall Plaza

6:15 – 7 p.m.: Cummins Diversity Choir – City Hall Plaza

7 – 9 p.m.: Black Tie Optional – Biergarten

8 – 10 p.m.: Tiptonians – City Hall Plaza

Children’s Activities

2:00 – 4 p.m.: kidscommons – Children’s Tent

4:30 – 5:15 p.m. – Taiko Workshop – City Hall Plaza