I've thought Lancaster City to have a diverse community since my first job here took me wandering down Prince Street, watching as a good handful of Latinos gathered together outside of their homes.
And yet, I was still amazed to observe the beauty I saw last night.
The city held its fourth annual Celebrate Lancaster, a colorful celebration of music, food, art and fun. Starting at 11am and continuing until 9pm, twenty food trucks lined up and down N. Queen served a variety of cuisine. I myself ate a crab cake, mango Italian ice, Pad thai and funnel cake throughout the night, but this was only the tip of the assortment. Central Market's own Rafiki Shoppe offered African delights to passersby. Lancaster Burger Company brought about its delicious burgers, I heard. Various culinary artists served up more Italian ice, shaved ice, gelato, fried Oreos, soul food, mac 'n cheese, fried chicken, pierogis, cheesesteak, churros and burritos (see more here.)
Children and adults turned N. Queen into a display of chalk masterpieces. A tuba played Camilla Cabello's "Havana." Philly-based Funk Authority invited people to "shut up and dance with me." But the most beautiful part of the day was the diversity.
For almost two hours, I sat on the edge of the sidewalk and participated in one of my favorite pastimes: people watching. There must have been thousands of people that meandered down the street and I'm fairly certain not all of them were from PA. White. Black. Asian. Latino. People in wheelchairs. Families. Couples. Singles. People from different financial backgrounds. Members of the police force watching the whole thing while managing to blend into the crowd themselves. The horses that carried the police. So many dogs. Possibly the longest queue I've seen in my life lined up for the food from Asian Taste (it just kept growing!) Spanish was only one of the languages I overheard. There were even a few women in Mickey ears.
As many of you know, I grew up on the Central Coast in California. For ten years, all I knew was diversity. The man I called Pastor for most of my childhood was black. My best friend in second grade was Latina. I went to primary with so many Hispanics and Latinos that I thought Nipomo's population was surely half-and-half. A white mom and dad in the church had six or seven kids, all adopted (and only one was white.) One of my two best friends in fifth grade was black. I can't remember a single all-white birthday party, for either myself or those I attended.
I've often been told that moving to southwest Missouri must have been a culture shock. It was. I want to preface by saying that Springfield is not a white-only city. It has actually attracted a large Asian population over the years, especially Korean. I continued to make friends from different backgrounds. A dear friend I've had since high school is of a Hmong family, who invited me to their house for dinner once after an Academic Team meet. The first teacher of color I had was Mrs. Jackson at Carver Middle School. But in comparison to what I saw in Nipomo, it was vastly different. I still went to school with way more whites than any other race. While researching for a Kickapoo Prairie News article for Black History Month, I learned about both the 1906 Square lynching of blacks and that Percy Cave (the same Percy Cave which became the tourist trap Fantastic Caverns) served as the home base for the Springfield branch of the KKK.
I've lived in Nipomo, where I saw migrant workers picking strawberries under the sun and bawled while reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry for fun at age nine. I've lived in Springfield, where I listened in awe as friends spoke other languages to their parents. I've lived in Colorado Springs, where I met members of the NAACP. I've lived in Orlando, where I worked with Haitians and Cubans. I've lived in Cork, where my church and workplaces introduced me for the first time to Africans. And I now live in Lancaster, where my church is purposely striving to be inclusive of the diverse community.
I'd like to say we live in a world where color doesn't exist, but that simply isn't the truth. It does exist. Our forefathers put it into play when they thought more about their economic greed than future generations. Americans didn't begin the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but they did continue it long after Europeans abolished the practice. The first slaves were brought into Jamestown in 1619. The Mayflower deposited Pilgrims onto the land of the future Massachusetts a year later, leading to the eventual demise of many Native Americans. Washington and Jefferson both owned slaves. A century minus a year after the founding fathers tabled the issue of slavery in 1790, the Thirteenth Amendment ended it; yet, it would take another century until the country decided to give blacks their civil rights. The Chinese were lured over with tales of fantasy to build the railroads, only to be horribly mistreated once the work was done. Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps during the second World War, although German-Americans and Italian-Americans were largely left alone while we fought against their countries. The LA race riots of 1992 effected both blacks and Latinos. And sure, you can say that's all in the past.
But racism isn't. Color isn't. Children being torn apart from their parents at the border isn't. People who have come here seeking a better life just like the Pilgrims and the folks of Jamestown did are thrown into detainment camps. A black college student picking up rubbish on his own property is held up by an officer for over an hour and only released when a white professor identifies him as a student. A black presidential candidate is told she isn't black by Internet trolls. A whole 25 years passes before an all-Asian cast is lead center in a film. Clean drinking water only started coming to Flint when Jaden Smith stepped in. Tribal reservations have been compared to third world countries.
And that's why Celebrate Lancaster was so beautiful. Because, whether they knew it or not, the people of Lancaster City, county, Pennsylvania, surrounding areas and wherever else came together and were unified.
I'm a Caucasian woman, with a background of at least nine heritages that all point back to Europe (and therefore, nine types of white.) There's also Native American somewhere in the family tree of the Weflers, but hardly enough to have any impact. I can't presume to know what people of other races go through, nor would I try. But I can listen. I can hear their stories. I can acknowledge my white privilege. And so can you.
God has blessed me with meeting so many wonderful people over the years and many of them have been people of color. Here's to Tiarra, who dreams of teaching abroad in Spain. Here's to Kristina Lor, who has turned the world into her photographic canvas while her brain computes crazy numbers. Kanokwan "Katie" Davis, who churns out media for so many case files and does it all with a smile. Theresa Lor, who is kicking serious business ass in Mass. Makhieba Simon, whose photos display the stunning architecture of Brooklyn. Ann Ebere-Anaba and her daughter Cynthia, who volunteer in Nigeria to bring hope to the hopeless. Praise Eguare, who has the sweetest heart that will lead her to a glorious career. Attiana Collins Harper, who is amazing at everything she does. Constance Ngome, who once helped me to start the short-lived Alight. Timbrel Chyatee, who provides a living wage for many employees in India. Rebecca Sobodu, who works long, arduous shifts so that she can bring medical help to the people of London. Cassandra Jones, who works tirelessly to ensure she's making a difference in the world. Bienfait, who sat in the Schaffer's and told us his experience of leaving the Congo as a refugee. Joy Ike-Uzo, a talented writer whose stories invoke such emotion. Olayinka Credle, who balances motherhood with a business that is making a significant difference for women of color. John, who has a kind word to say to everyone. Sandrine, who can communicate in five different languages. Bia and Felipe Rocha, who bring a warm presence to the room. Lizzy Krajan Pardo and her husband Dan, whose passion for Christ is palpable. Kevin Medina, who has a real heart for the people of Lancaster City. Remi Lait, whose medical duties take him to the Amish community. My next-door neighbor Michael, who will always gift passersby with a smile and a wave when he's sitting on his front porch. Francis Ndungu, who is a sales star. Sitawa, who always cares enough to ask how someone is doing. SheVan Alston, who shines in all her endeavors. Sandra Gonzalez, who spreads love to anyone who comes across her. Ana Paula Ganino Santos, who was a bright light at Abtran. Stephanie Teo, who is conquering the STEM world. Milan Credle, who is bringing spoken word to the population. Patrick Dobbin, who leads a team of young adults through the streets of Cork City to spread the Gospel. Alexander Nedd, who is passionate about both community news and entertainment journalism. Alexis Amaye-Hunter, who tirelessly worked towards her Ph.D. while balancing motherhood, and succeeded. Chacka Zulu Latogolaise, who gives the best hugs. Ikumi Futasaka, who spreads cheery delight throughout the Disney parks. Yu Xiang, Yukiko Kamashima, Rikako Ando and Mayu Hattori, who fearlessly crossed the ocean to a land so different from their own. Lais Nunes, who I'm fairly certain never stops smiling. Jackie Vo, who cares. Dwayne Ventura Williams, who knows good craic. Andy Fynn, who has a powerful voice. Lanre Pedro, who probably kept us all sane at The Range. Stephen Bentu, who learned to fly a plane. Krista Simmons, who was awarded Excellence in Nursing by St. Louis Magazine this year. Sam Chen, whose photography is breathtaking. Tyler Le, who founded his own business. Ann Lewis, who helps struggling girls find themselves again (and to Melanie, who did the same.) Varleny Garcia, who is beautiful both inside and out. Kristen Wolfgram, who perserved through the heartbreak until she finally got her rainbow baby. Dennis Jones, the first pastor I remember, and his children, Joanna and James. To Carmen Taly Rivera and Anna, who both brought love to Coronado. Fletcher Fynn, who has some serious video editing skills. Krystal Joiner, who rocks both the fashion world and Rodan & Fields. Edgar Sampson and Deidre Benjamin who both made an enjoyable trip even more enjoyable. Irene Rho, who excelled at everything she set her mind to. Patrick Acuzar, one of the best bosses at Coronado. Guilherme Roxa and his kind heart. Rafael Rivera de Jesus, who lit up Coronado. Syed Kamran Qadir, who wasn't afraid to track down a girl who forgot her passport in the shop. Alison Furakawa, who was one of the most talented participants in 4-H. Brianna, Niki, Dominique and various other members of the Barnett family. To Ruby Hernandez and Elyssa Bohanna, that second and fifth grade best friend, respectively. Finally, to Anastasia, the cutest baby girl. (And these are only the ones I've had friendships with, worked alongside as coworkers or held some kind of dynamic.)