by Carolyn Bick
Hoisting her daughter Dayaa up onto her hip, Dana Gibson smiled as she looked around at the festivities in Othello Park.
“It’s our first time here in the park, but we usually frequent the festivities in Columbia City,” Gibson said, referring to the Rainier Valley Heritage Celebration that has taken place in Columbia City in the past. “There is a lot of community going on, so we like to support the locals.”
Gibson was just one of more than a thousand attendees at the combined Rainier Valley Heritage and Othello International Festival on Sunday. The Othello Park Alliance and the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce came together to put on the combined celebrations. Children shouted and played on the grass, tumbling about as dancers from the Somali Youth Dancers performed. Just beyond the stage, parents and children perused the various vendors and artisans set up beneath tents that shielded them from the intermittent sun.
Beyond supporting the community and family friends, Gibson said it’s important to bring Dayaa to the festival, in order to set an example for her.
“It’s important for her to see me engaging in community. I believe that’s a trickle-down. It will reflect in her. She’ll continue to invest in community, and support community things,” Gibson said. “It’s important to expose her to [different cultures], so we don’t keep her in a box. At home, we don’t get the cultural things, and so it’s good to keep her in the community, and show her there are other things out there, other than what we have at home.”
The Othello International Festival has been going for 12 years, Othello Park Alliance Secretary Mona Lee said. Lee, who has lived in the area for the last two decades, and others were tired of Othello Park’s “bad reputation” as a gang hangout and decided to encourage the community to use otherwise beautiful park as a family spot, instead.
The Alliance sees the Othello neighborhood as something special, Lee said, with people of different cultures and from different parts of the world living alongside one another.
“We wanted something that would make us all one community, and everybody would contribute their cultures and … help each other appreciate their cultures,” Lee said. “It all spreads out to the idea of wanting our neighborhood to have an identity as … one of the most multicultural neighborhoods in the country, and to have pride in that.”
It started out with just a few concerts, but it quickly became much more. Today, the festival alone draws thousands, Lee said. This year, the combination of the Rainier Valley Heritage Celebration and the festival brought in even more.
“We have been always trying to attract other people from other neighborhoods, and other parts of the city,” Lee said.
As she concentrated on the design blossoming from the tip of her pipet, henna artist Lima Cheng said she regularly clears her calendar for Othello International Festival. The Little Red Henna owner has been coming for the last seven years and is so committed that she sacrificed a day of vacation with her family to attend this year.
“I’ll go tomorrow,” Cheng said of the vacation. “I don’t think this community has a chance to showcase all its diversity as well as this festival. … Here, everyone is included, which I love. I don’t have to worry about missing certain showcases.”
Moreover, Cheng said, her children have attended nearly every year.
“My kids grew up here. My youngest is seven now, so she was a baby when we started,” Cheng said.
Feature Photo: Patience Mizero wears a large costume, during the Othello International Festival and Rainier Valley Heritage Celebration at Othello Park on Aug. 12. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)