Vallejo Cultural Festival

Pictured left to right, Trisha Abrams, Eva and Leon Garcia dance in a line during a weekly cultural diversity festival emphasizing Mexican culture this week, Aug. 22, 2014, in Vallejo. (Steve Reczkowski/Daily Republic)

Solano County

Vallejo celebrates cultural diversity

By From page A1 | August 23, 2014

FAIRFIELD — Business Insider called Vallejo the most diverse U.S. city country in 2013.

The conclusion was drawn from the fact the four main ethnic groups, Hispanic/Latino, white, black and Asian/Pacific Islander, are almost equally represented.

That news prompted Frank Malifrando, the man behind the city’s annual Mad Hatter Festival, to introduce another event to the county’s most populous town, appropriately titled “Celebrating Diversity in Vallejo.”

More than 100 people filled a block of Georgia Street on Friday to listen to R&B music, watch Ballet Folklorico Elle Valle of St. Helena do traditional Mexican dances in costume, and check out the surrounding art galleries.

The emphasis was on Mexican heritage. Malifrando took care to make sure there was something for everyone. Past festivals have focused on one culture, he said. And, the majority attending identified themselves with the race.

“You would get your token mix,” he said.

He decided to bring all of them together at the same time and see what happened.

“Celebrating Diversity in Vallejo” debuted Aug. 15. The Filipino culture was feted. Those also attending heard some gospel tunes and saw Turkish belly dancers.

The cultures were meshed again Friday with some soul music kicking off the three-hour event. A trio played in the Artizen, which is home to an exhibit celebrating unique things about Vallejo.

Melvina Griffin sat in her wheelchair, soaking in the music. She was celebrating her 73rd birthday. She ditched the wheelchair, which she lovingly calls her “Cadillac,” to dance for a couple of tunes.

A few feet away, a black, Hispanic and Asian woman line danced with a white male.

That’s what Malifrando wanted to see.

“As it grows, we’ll expand,” he said of the event.

The Mad Hatter Festival drew about 800 or 900 people the first year. Attendance has grown about tenfold, he said.

Indigenous people will be spotlighted Aug. 29. Representatives from the Sacred Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes were on hand Friday to share work about their mission. Next week, Eric StrongBear, who chaired the 2011 Vallejo Inter-Tribal Council Pow Wow, will be at the celebration.

Bleu Wakpa, of Sacred Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes, hopes to educate people about the use of Native American mascots.

“They give young people a warped perception of Native Americans,” he said. “We don’t want the end of the mascots to be the end of the discussion. We want it to be the beginning of a new discussion.”

Members of the organization also shared information on the War On Diabetes run that was set to leave San Francisco on Saturday. The goal is to educate Native Americans about diabetes.

Malifrando said he started the Mad Hatter Festival to boost the morale of a city emerging from bankruptcy. Celebrating the town’s diversity is the icing on the cake.

“This is my gift to the city,” he said.

Malifrando also produces the event with his own money, he said. One man thought it was the perfect present.

“This is so beautiful,” said Mario Salcedo. “I see Mexicans, I see Filipinos, I see black, I see white. We should have this at every festival.”

The event wraps up Aug. 29. Hours are 6 to 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/MadHatterHolidayVallejo.

Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey joined the staff of the Daily Republic in 1980. She’ll tell you she was only 3 at the time. Over the past three decades she’s done a variety of jobs in the newsroom. Today, she covers arts and entertainment and writes for the Living and news pages.

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