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Central Ohio Immigrants Gather For Saturday's New American Festival

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Saturday from noon until 5 p.m. there’s a New American Festival being held at the north branch of the YMCA in Columbus.  Immigrants from many parts of the world will be singing, dancing and offering foods from their cultures.

The event’s organizer is Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services.  Seleshi Asfaw is the group’s founder and executive director.

“This is important,” Asfaw says.  “The face of Central Ohio is changing, whether we like it or not.  There are so many new peoples coming to Columbus.  They like Columbus; it’s a welcoming city.  The City of Columbus, the mayor’s office, city council, county commissioners, and the residents are very welcoming.  As a result, so many people are coming here – it’s better to come together and understand how we can contribute to the economy; and social values and political values, so, I think this is important that people have to work across cultures – multiculturalism.  Diversity and inclusion is very important.”

Asfaw fled persecution in Ethiopia and came to Columbus 19 years ago.  He understands how difficult it is assimilating into American society.  Asfaw says he thinks events like the New American Festival draw people together.

“There are different languages and cultures and heritages and there are different values – arts – they brought their talents and knowledge to Central Ohio so that by coming and understanding and eating together and dancing together, that makes people united,” Asfaw says.

Asfaw says today’s festival has its roots in celebrations of the Ethiopian New Year.  But he says many immigrants from different countries asked that the event be more inclusive.

“We have Sudanese, we have Somalis, we have Bhutanese, Nepalese, Burmese, East Africans, Central Africans, West Africans, and Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian and Latino; they came up [and asked] ‘Can we have a name that embraces all of us?’  So that’s what we call the New American celebration,” Asfaw says.

The third annual New American Festival, with its rich diversity, will surprise many native Central Ohioans, Asfaw says. 

“We are hosting this celebration from noon to 5 p.m.  We really want to promote the vast diversity – the vast heritage – the vast multiculturalism and diversity of New Americans living in the Buckeye State of Ohio and Columbus.  Over 16 countries are coming and participating.  Artisans. Cultural performances. Business owners and foods. And celebrations and special performances with kids.  I think this is a good opportunity for the Central Ohio community to come and to know what this international community looks like.  This is a good opportunity to work across cultures; to understand why these refugee immigrants are coming here; the impacts of economics on central Ohio and the cultural vibrance that they are contributing for Central Ohio,” Asfaw says.

Seleshi Asfaw is director of Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services in Columbus.  The organization is sponsoring the New American Festival which begins Saturday at noon at the North Columbus YMCA.