Why settle for a community celebration of foreign cuisine and customs for one day a year when the people behind the cultures live in the Valley all year long?

This Sunday, you can pile a plate of fresh pico de gallo alongside rivers of curry that flow onto a bed of rice pilaf and end with honey-drizzled baklava because Bridges is hosting its fifth Intercultural Community Potluck and Dance.

Members of Community Mennonite Church, inspired by the annual Harrisonburg International Festival and interfaith organization Know Your Neighbor, dreamed up Bridges in hopes to foster a continuous space for interaction between the various identities in Rockingham County.

Bridges’ Planning Team features voices from Palestinian, Sudanese, Congolese and Kurdish descent as well as members of Dayton Valley Friends Meeting and Community Mennonite Church.

The mission statement of Bridges is to “create opportunities around shared hospitality — including of our arts, cuisine, recreation, personal stories, and worldviews — to nurture our sense of interconnectedness and to demonstrate that we can live together as a beautifully diverse human family in peace, with mutual appreciation and respect, embodying the love for all humankind that lies at the heart of our spiritual traditions, whatever they are.”

Sal Romero, vice-mayor and coordinator of family and community engagement for Harrisonburg City Public Schools, was born in Mexico and serves as a voice for the Hispanic community on the committee. Romero said Bridges is a truly inclusive organization that helps address confusion and dismantle biases against foreign cultures in a comfortable space.

“The meeting was very intentional. In addition to enjoying each other’s food, there was a very intentional activity where we talked about very important questions that we all have when it comes to how do we interact with people in our community,” Romero said. “Food and people from all over the Middle East, and Central and South America as well as Mexico. So it’s fairly diverse, I think it was a good representation of our community.”

Before dishes can be stocked, one member of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith each offer a prayer. Then, the festivities begin.

David Kreider was one of the initiators behind the formation of Bridges. He and his wife grew up in the Gaza Strip and watched the traumas and divisions between the three faiths, so he said these gatherings are a way to redirect the pain of those experiences into something positive.

“Growing up with friendships and sympathies across these lines, I have felt a very deep desire to try to heal these wounds, alienations, enmities and fears of the other, as something of a way to heal my own self,” Kreider said.

Some potlucks feature games while others highlight talents, but each feast is a diverse display of interfaith and intercultural communities throughout the county. This weekend’s potluck is focused on global music and dance.

A few students in the Thomas Harrison Middle School band will start off the evening with a collection of short folk songs. Staunton High School’s Diversity Step Team, which performed at this year’s Harrisonburg International Festival, will perform the style inspired by South Africa’s Gumboot dances from the 1800s. Following the show, dancers will lead a brief presentation on a few of the signature moves.

Leons Kabongo is a Congolese representative on the Bridges board. Kabongo also works at Our Community Place and said he frequently hears stories of pain and adversity from immigrants, so he supports the unity across nationalities that Bridges strengthens.

“I felt they were an organization which genuinely tried to connect different cultures which already coexist in this community and focused on bringing them to light. I enjoy exposure of that nature when it is sustainable and inclusive,” Kabongo said. “It’s also good to see a space where those people can meet and break bread and celebrate each other’s different experiences.”

Committee of United Salvadoran Civilians (Comite Salvadoreño Paisanos Unidos) is a Harrisonburg-based nonprofit that celebrates its Hispanic culture and works to protect families that reside in the country with temporary protection statuses. COSPU’s TPS Children Hispanic Dance Group highlights the musical riches of El Salvador and raises awareness of its efforts to keep families unified. Attendees are invited to dance alongside the children.

THMS will host the potluck and dance from 5-7 p.m. on Sunday. THMS is located at 1311 W. Market St.

“These gatherings and connections with people who have come to us here in Harrisonburg from regions broken by war and hardship, of whatever sort, many of them created by our own government’s foreign policies ... are a reminder of our common humanity and kinship across all lines of difference as a human family,” Kreider said.

Contact Kathleen Shaw at 574-6274 or kshaw@dnronline.com. Follow Kathleen on Twitter @shawkareport

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