August 11, 2012 in Features

Cultural celebration

Every booth tells a story at Unity in the Community
By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Somkhit Buerger left, and Phonthip Tungkana are from Thailand and will have a booth at Unity in the Community on Aug. 18.
(Full-size photo)

Unity in the Community

When: Aug. 18, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Riverfront Park

What: Booths, food, live bands, education, music and dance throughout the park

History: The event was first held in 1995. Spokane pastor Lonnie Mitchell said on Unity’s website: “There was more ethnic diversity here than people knew about but people weren’t coming together. Racial and cultural barriers seemed to hinder growth and development in Spokane. We felt it was very important for people to know the strength of diversity in Spokane and for people of different cultures and races to understand each other. So the Unity in the Community celebration (then at Liberty Park) was born.”

Surprises: Look for a “jeepney,” the mode of transportation for the majority of Filipinos, made out of stainless steel and elaborately decorated.

More information: or (509) 209-2634

At Unity in the Community next Saturday, you can visit more than 45 cultural village booths. The people at the booths live in the Inland Northwest, but they moved here from places around the globe.

“You don’t have to travel throughout the world to see different cultures,” said Ben Cabildo, the event’s co-chairman.

Every person in every booth will have a story. Listen, and you’ll learn about the unique paths people traveled from their homeland to the Inland Northwest.

Here’s one story.

Somkhit Buerger, 51, Thailand

Back story: In the 1990s, Somkhit was taking care of an elderly gentleman in a housing complex close to Mahidol University near Bangkok. Peter Buerger, an Eastern Washington University neuropsychology professor, was teaching in Thailand. He lived in the complex. One day, he tumbled down steps at the university during a rainstorm.

The elderly gentleman asked Somkhit to help his friend during his recovery. Peter and Somkhit fell in love. They survived a long-distance relationship for several years before Somkhit, an independent woman who had never married, decided she could leave her parents and extended family and move to the United States.

The couple married in 2001 and settled on Spokane’s South Hill.

How she connected here: Through Spokane Thai restaurants, Somkhit Buerger found friends from her homeland. And she met people through the Thai community temple, Wat Spokane Dhammaram, located on South Hatch Road.

About 400 people from Thailand now live in the Inland Northwest, the Buergers estimated.

Her life here: Buerger, now an American citizen, taught Thai cooking for the Institute for Extended Learning for more than a decade. Now, she sells her specialty Thai food through the Main Market in downtown Spokane and at Huckleberry’s.

Thailand’s booth: When the Buergers traveled to Los Angeles four years ago they stopped in at the Tourism Authority of Thailand office. The connections they made resulted in approval of a huge donation to the Unity booth by Thailand’s western United States top tourism official, Chanchai Doungjit.

At Unity, members of Spokane’s Thai community will give away hundreds of gift bags and posters, painted with scenes from Thailand, as well as hundreds of travel brochures. All free.

“It’s time for us to tell people about our country,” Buerger said. “We have something to share.”

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