Brandon Klaus and his son Ryan traveled across the globe and back in an afternoon at Unity in the Community, Spokane’s annual celebration of diversity.
Klaus gripped a bag of school supplies for his 6-year-old son, who will be entering first grade this year. Ryan received the bag for visiting 18 different booths in the Community Village, each representing a different culture.
“How do you say ‘thank you’ in the Philippines?” Klaus asked his son. “It’s not salami, it’s …”
Ryan scrunched his face, trying to remember.
“It’s salamat,” Klaus said.
“Sa-la-mat,” Ryan said, sounding out each syllable.
Unity in the Community celebrated its 19th year Saturday, filling Riverfront Park with booths and vendors representing different organizations and businesses throughout the Inland Northwest. The event featured a health fair, a petting zoo and entertainment representing communities with members in the Inland Northwest.
At the Cultural Village, dozens of children passed through the booths, learning a few words in different languages, looking at pictures from abroad and picking up small souvenirs to take home.
Event co-chair Mike Lunsford said the space offers children the opportunity to visit with cultures and people from countries they may not see otherwise.
“There’s a lot more to Spokane than just what they maybe think,” Lunsford said.
Among the 18 booths was one that didn’t represent any one country or culture, but as many as 50: Refugee Connections Spokane, an organization dedicated to helping refugees from politically torn countries assimilate into the Inland Northwest.
There are almost 30,000 refugees in Spokane, and it isn’t always easy for them to find their way so far from home. But executive director Susan Hale and Burundi refugee Jean-Claude Ndayizeye posed the question, “What will you do to help refugees in your classroom?” to children passing through the village.
“Our hope is when they’re back in their classroom they’ll start to act on these things that they’ve just thought about,” Hale said.
Ndayizeye said it doesn’t have to be a huge contribution. Some children suggested giving refugees money, but something as simple as helping them speak English can make a difference, he said.
Traci Logan, who sits on the committee for Unity in the Community, said she hopes children leave the Community Village with a better understanding of the world and its people.
“Just because somebody’s skin might look like a different color or their hair might look different or they have a different accent doesn’t mean they’re actually any different at all,” she said.