TUPELO • Tupelo celebrated the diversity of its population this weekend with the return of the Celebration of Cultures event.

Held Sunday afternoon at the Oren Dunn City Museum in Tupelo, the event featured six different countries — the Bahamas, Ghana, India, Mexico, Japan and the US — as well as four additional vendors and booths from the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (FRC); tutoring program and resource center El Centro; and multicultural church Soma Tupelo.

Though they initially planned for a smaller program, the event drew a crowd of more than 100 attendees despite a hiatus last year because of the pandemic.

The strong turnout surprised Shanta Jones, the program director for Tupelo Parks and Recreation. Jones originally restarted the program back in 2016 following a nine-year hiatus.

Jones said she hopes attendees learned from the event and could gain a greater appreciation for other cultures.

“We all come together to try to understand one another where we’re at from the country that we’re from through music, dancing, and food,” Jones said. “We just want to celebrate each other in unity.”

That sentiment was felt by Celebration of Cultures newcomer Shyla Macwan from India.

Macwan displayed traditional outfits such as a sari and sold India snacks and dishes like samosas, butter children and puloa. Despite it being her first year taking part in the event and initially being unsure of how it would go, Macwan said it was wonderful.

“Everyone’s been so nice and so warm and generous,” Macwan said. “I don’t feel like I’m from a different nation, but I feel the love and warmth from everybody. I thank God for this blessing and opportunity.”

Various flags of different countries lined the entrance to the event. Tables representing the different countries featured food, traditional games, handmade items, clothing, jewelry and more. The program, which was created more than two decades ago, opened with prayer, the pledge of allegiance and national anthem.

One moment, attendees were dancing together to the Cha Cha Slide. The next, they were watching as Tony Wallace, head instructor of the New Albany and Tupelo based martial arts school Kinetic Kick, demonstrated different techniques. Spanish music was performed while others shared cultural dances.

FRC, one of the participating organizations, provided materials in multiple languages sharing their services and programs, and gave away bucket items as door prizes, said Dell Hatch of the FRC. Sheila Davis, the program director for FRC, also announced the FRC recently received $100,000 for a racial equity grant to help families of color in the community.

Esi Osei represented her native Ghana with her crafts of pillows, jewelry, shirts, bags, neck pillows and more in traditional prints. Each item was handmade in Tupelo with African fabrics and beads. Osei, who's been in Tupelo for six years, began making items four years ago for family and friends. She began producing on a larger scale with encouragement from them.

For Osei, Celebration of Cultures provides a chance to educate others on the different cultures Tupelo has.

“It’s also education for the young kids, to get to know and embrace other cultures, too,” Osei said. “The City of Tupelo is doing a good job. Shanta is wonderful, coordinating all this, and I’m happy there is something like this.”

At the Japanese table, children and adults alike gravitated towards games like Daruma Otoshi and Kendama. Kumi Richardson, one of the exhibitors, said they decided to host traditional games to allow the audience a chance to observe and participate.

“We can simply demonstrate, but if the audience can participate, I think they can enjoy it much more and then they can remember more,” Richardson said.

An ensemble performed folklore dances. One of the dancers was St. James Catholic Church Hispanic coordinator Raquel Thompson. Folklore is very important for their culture from Guadalajara, Thompson said, and the dance and music that is part of Mexico. St. James celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month — held from Sept. 15 until Oct. 15 — each year, and every year they participate in Celebration of Cultures.

“This is not only one culture; it’s a mix of every culture and this is what it’s always about, so (we’re) very happy and enjoy (that) we can be here,” Thompson said. “Last year, because of the pandemic, we didn’t have it so this year we were all for it.”

Patrice Stone, from the Bahamas, opted to bring woven items, wood carvings, conch shells and a display with the history, national currency and symbols of the Bahamas. She said she relishes having a venue to share her culture with her Mississippi family.

“It’s important for us to share our different cultures because we are all from one race, which is the human race,” Stone said.

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