Festival unifies roots and communities

A The New Westminster Quay during the 2012 DiverseCity Festival. | All photos courtesy of New Westminster Business Improvement Association

A The New Westminster Quay during the 2012 DiverseCity Festival. | All photos courtesy of New Westminster Business Improvement Association

The 11th annual New Westminster DiverseCity Festival kicks off May 18 with food, art, entertainment, and history.

Kendra Johnston, executive director of the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association (BIA), says the idea of the festival started with a group of local business owners who wanted a family oriented outdoor festival along the boardwalk.

The nonprofit organization represents the interests of businesses and property owners in downtown New Westminster and promotes the area as a welcoming site for shopping, dining and entertainment with activities like the DiverseCity Festival.

She says the only requirement for participants is that they offer “something engaging, educational, or entertaining to the public.

“What makes this festival special is that the community comes together, celebrates each other’s culture and many connections are formed that last a lifetime through this event,” says Johnston.

Discovering heritage
Christine Manzer’s story is one of such connections.

Performers waiting to perform at the 2012 DiverseCity Festival.

Performers waiting to perform
at the 2012 DiverseCity Festival.

“[Last year] my cousin and I approached the United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada [UELAC] booth attracted by [the volunteers’] colourful period clothing,” she says. She was excited to find that her last name was on the list of proven Loyalists’ names, says Manzer who is a support librarian at SFU.

The first Loyalists were European colonists who migrated from the U.S., to what is today  Canada after the American Revolution.  The UELAC preserves and promotes the Loyalists’ era and their role in the history of Canada.

“It’s great. It’s given me a focus and a project for when I retire next year,” says Manzer who expects to receive her official descendant certification this month.

While Manzer found her heritage during a visit to the festival, Rita Khimani is an artist who shares her heritage there. Khimani, a henna artist from India, has been practicing this art since she was seven years old. She remembers taking leaves from a tree and crushing them, adding water, then applying the paste to her hands. That was the beginning of her love for henna art, she says. She has participated in the festival for a couple of years and says people enjoy the history and the beauty of the art.

“It’s origins arise from Ancient Egypt where the Pharaohs and Cleopatra applied [it] as eyeliner. People are always surprised [by] that,” she says.

Khimani says that, on their wedding night, traditionally Indian grooms look for their hidden initials as they caress their bride’s hands or feet decorated with intricate henna designs. Back when marriages were arranged, this gave the husband the chance to connect with his new bride. Today, she works with brides of all cultures who appreciate the beauty of this tradition.
Passion for sharing

Belly dancing is not a tradition in Lisa Jordan’s heritage, but she shares her passion for this art at her Ammara Dance Co. studio in New Westminster, and at the festival, where she has danced for past five years. Jordan is a Middle Eastern dance instructor from B.C., who for the past 12 years has focused on a style of belly dance called Raks Sharqi.

“[It’s] captivating for all audiences – it’s dynamic, glitzy, and portrays a range of expressions from a soft, lovely veil dance to a dynamic, exciting drum solo.”

She says there is an exotic element to Raks Sharqi that seems to fascinate lots of people, especially children.

“I think…it is a combination of the colour and movement as well as human connection to rhythm that draws people to this dance. There are many untruths about (it) that I feel compelled to dispel. It is important for me to perform and teach (it) with cultural respect and integrity,”
says Jordan.