Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Multicultural Region Shines in the parks

On Sunday, March 31st, during a rainy day, 7,500 people celebrated the Persian New Year with food, music and dancing at Bull Run Regional Park’s Special Events Center. Last year, with the sun shining, the same celebration saw nearly 11,000 participants.

Northern Virginia and the greater-Washington region are known as a cosmopolitan area with many languages, cultures and foods making it one of the most internationally diverse places in the nation. What is less known is the role the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority plays in supporting this multicultural nature of the region.

On any sunny weekend, tens of thousands of people picnic in the Regional Parks throughout Northern Virginia, and many of these people are immigrant families, many from Latin America, as well as other areas of the world. This is a result of parks being public places where extended families can gather to relax and play. But there is another, more organized side of the multicultural role of parks.

The Special Events Center at Bull Run Regional Park just off I-66 in Centreville has become the gathering place for large ethnic festivals. Just like the Persian New Year festival last weekend, the Events Center with its large amphitheater, center stage and ample parking routinely hosts cultural events with 5-10,000 participants per day. Annually, there is a festival tailored to the people of the Punjab Region of India, a three day Korean festival and a Pakistani festival.

“These festivals help communities in our area stay connected to their culture. This makes our whole region a more interesting and dynamic place to live for everyone,” said Paul Gilbert, Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

One participant from the Persian festival last year said to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, "we would like to thank you and your staff for having arranged a well-organized place for the last day of our Nowruz celebration. We had ample parking space, beautiful surroundings, appropriate posted signs to make navigation easy and above all, lots of fun. We do appreciate your efforts for making it happen the way it did."

The most interesting example of parks supporting international culture in the region has been the creation of the Korean Bell Garden at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. From 2007 to 2012, the Korean American Cultural Committee, under the leadership of Jeung Hwa Elmejjad-Yi, funded and constructed a Korean Bell and surrounding garden that is now part of the Meadowlark Gardens. This project was partially funded by the Republic of Korea and partially by donations from the local Korean American community. The end result is the only Korean Bell and Korean Garden of its type in the Western Hemisphere, a true cultural touchstone.

“Not only do these cultural events make the region a more cosmopolitan place, they also are significant attractions bringing in visitors both domestic and international which contribute greatly to the local economy, and provide opportunities and memorable experiences for residents and visitors alike,” remarked Barry Biggar, President and CEO of Visit Fairfax.

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