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Read this story in Spanish at La Prensa Sonoma

La Prensa Sonoma: Lea este artículo en español

Laura Nuñez of Santa Rosa liked what she saw Sunday on the sunbaked pavement at the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center on Sebastopol Road.

“It’s just amazing to see all kinds of people around,” she said. “Everyone’s playing and having fun together.”

Her son, Hugo Canela, 8, a student at Brook Hill Elementary School, took time to bang with his hands on an array of orange drums made from metal buckets welded together in an artful, freestanding instrument while his sister, Kitcia Canela, a 14-year-old Montgomery High School freshman, surveyed the festival and announced, “it’s fun.”

Mixing cultures through food, music and other entertainment, including poetry, dance, stilt-walkers and a fashion show, was the idea behind the first Roseland Community Festival, a free, one-day event in the same location that hosts Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

Don Carman, 71, of Forestville, said he heard about the multicultural event and just wanted to see what it was like.

“We love everybody. We’re here to be with them — and get the free music,” he said, sharing a plate of chicken tacos with his wife, Ann, 75, accompanied by their dog, Sadie.

Jake Ward, a Santa Rosa native and a Roseland resident for the past 10 years, said he organized the festival “to showcase everything that’s wonderful about Roseland: the music, art, food and culture.”

Ward, 29, who has produced variety shows at a Santa Rosa bar and at other local festivals for several years, said he is not aware of any other event intended to “bridge the cultural gap” in the heavily Latino Roseland neighborhood. There’s a common perception that events staged in downtown Santa Rosa are for Anglos and those in Roseland are for Latinos, he said. “We’re trying to mix it up.”

The festival was backed by a $5,000 grant from Creative Sonoma, a division of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board created three years ago to support and promote local arts.

Bernice Espinoza, 36, of Santa Rosa, heard about the event from Ward and decided to participate as a member of the Parking Lot Poets, who are part of the Santa Rosa-based Raizes Collective, founded in 2015 to support minority artists and teachers.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Espinoza said, after reciting some original poems in Spanish with Ana Salgazo, 45, of Roseland.

Ringing the festival area were food booths offering a cross-cultural mix of hot dogs, lemonade, tacos, quesadillas, chicharrones and one stand serving funnel cakes and churros.

Petaluma artist George Utrilla worked at an easel with acrylic paint on a portrait of the Cantinflas, the Mexican comic film actor, producer and screenwriter best known to Anglos for his role as Passepartout in the 1956 movie “Around the World in 80 Days.”

“I’m blessed to be here,” said Utrilla, who happily accepted Ward’s invitation to participate. “We need more of this to bridge the gap.

“The gap is ever so wide right now.”

Leilani Clark, 44, said she and some friends rode bicycles to the festival from the nearby West End neighborhood. The multicultural event “kinda reminds me of us,” said Clark, who is an Anglo/Latino and whose daughter is half Asian, as well.

The West End is fairly diverse, she said, but many parts of Sonoma County are all-white. Diversity is essential, Clark said.

“We need it to thrive.”

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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