Picnic honors diversity
Fourth of July event draws 300 participants to Fresno State park.
By Adrian Rodriguez
A midmorning picnic at California State University, Fresno's J.E. O'Neill Park drew more than 300 people Friday, many eager to show that the Fourth of July is more than fireworks -- it is a time to celebrate the nation's pluralism.
Chinese-Hmong dancers, Japanese Taiko drummers, Valley heartland folk players, flamenco dancers and others performed on a stage next to picnic tables.
"Fresno is such a diverse place," said Kim Lang of North Fork. "You can find all the races in Fresno."
The sixth annual Diversity Brunch, organized by the Interfaith Alliance of Central California, is held on Independence Day to breathe fresh life into the Declaration of Independence, said Bryan Jessup, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Fresno.
"It's now really still holding together this multicultural, multireligious nation," he said. "Each strand that comes in to help create this country strengthens it."
Fresno is one of the most diverse cities in the country. According to 2000 census data, about 40% of Fresnans are Hispanic, about 37% are white, 11% are Asian and about 8% are black.
Most who attended Friday were white, but the crowd represented different religious backgrounds such as Baha'i, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Sikh and Muslim.
Demonstrating Fresno's diversity is worth the effort, but it would be hard to arrange an event where the mix was representative of the many cultures that thrive in Fresno, said Larry Cusick, who came to the celebration with his wife and two children.
"It's a barrier we have to work against," said Cusick, who lives in central Fresno. "But this is a perfect way to spend the Fourth of July."
Cusick said in about 100 years, that barrier might be gone.
But Sudarshan Kapoor, co-founder of the Interfaith Alliance, said 10 years would be enough for the picnic to catch up. "It takes time," he said. "The numbers are small, but the quality is good."
The Diversity Brunch was born out of controversy six years ago when organizers of the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast sent a letter to ticket holders that stated, in part, "We believe that submission to the Lord Jesus Christ is the best way -- in fact, the only way -- the people of Fresno can be effective in facing the problems confronting our community."
The brunch was organized as a response to that incident.
The Interfaith alliance, a national organization whose local chapter was founded in 1997, represents many faith communities and seeks common ground among all religions.
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