Grace LeBleu, 4, and Grandmother Shigeko Walgamot, a member of the Sakura group, dance together during the traditional Japanese dance performance at the cultural fair Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Our Common Diversity

The flags of many nations snap in a breeze redolent of teriyaki, tostadas, Indian fry bread, corn dogs. The grass is wet from Friday's rain, but the Saturday morning sun filters through the big trees of Alba Park.

This is the 14th edition of the Medford Multicultural Fair, an event that aims to bridge some of the gaps between cultures and bring people together. Colorful kimonos flash, a fiddle competes with an impromptu drum group, and people of diverse ages, colors and origins mix and mingle.

"I think it's great," says Sheryn Ryan of Medford, who is having a cup of coffee with pal Alan Marley. "It's really interesting. It's got a little bit of everything."

The event goes back to 1994, when it was organized by Oregon Fair Share.

"It was so well-received we thought we'd do it again," says Connie Saldana, one of the original organizers.

The fair wound up for a time in the hands of a city commission but since 2004 has been run by the nonprofit Friends of the Multicultural Fair.

"It's an opportunity for people in the county to celebrate diversity," Saldana says.

The event has grown up a bit, with business sponsors now, actual stages for the entertainers and an estimated attendance last year of 5,000.

"It was our biggest year ever," says event organizer Sarrah le Moss, of Medford, explaining the attendance estimate. "It made more than half the trash of Pear Blossom, and that's 10,000 people."

Le Moss, 29, first volunteered for the event two years ago as a mistress of ceremonies on one of two stages.

"I was really feeling a lack of diversity in Medford," she says. "I went to Southern Oregon University, which has a large and active foreign students' group.

"I wondered what we could do to make Medford a little more culturally friendly."

The fair's 56 exhibits and two stages are at least a partial answer to that question. There's henna art, Tibetan and Indian stuff, hemp, Japanese tamari balls and much more. Entertainment goes through the day.

On the North Stage, the Sakura Japanese Bon Dance troupe from Grants Pass gives the morning crowd a taste of dance from their native land. Kimono-clad dancers move in a large circle, their traditional Japanese clogs, or geta, adding their own music.

One dance re-creates a cruise on a riverboat near Tokyo. In another dancers describe a seascape and mountains entirely through hand gestures. There is even a spirited dance to an old Japanese drinking tune.

"This is a great way for my kids to see their heritage," says Erica Le Bleu, whose daughter Grace, 4, joined her grandmother among the dancers. "I want my kids to be exposed to our culture."

On the East Stage, Olaf Soderbach is playing Swedish tunes on the fiddle. In the wings wait more old-time fiddlers, musicians playing Greek and Balkan music, several local bands.

Le Moss says she'd like to see the fair grow, add more music, possibly an event for soccer — the quintessential multicultural sport — and maybe stretch into a second day.

"I really feel this is a launch year for us," she says. "Next year maybe we'll reach a larger audience."

The sun gets higher. More people show up. They stroll, talk, eat, admire each other's dogs, all of which — white, black, brown and red — seem to get along.

Two young men from the Tulofu Culture Team do a vigorous dance that mirrors warriors in combat with large clubs. On the East Stage, Zion Train lays down a reggae beat. People listen as they eat in warm sunshine to an old Bob Marley tune:

One Love.

One Heart.

Let's get together

and feel all right.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or

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