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Multicultural Festival in Reston Overrides Cultural Differences

“I just wish we could bottle it up and serve the rest of the world a dose.”

--Ellen Graves, co-founder, Multicultural Festival

Perhaps it was prescience.

When Ellen Graves co-chaired Reston’s first Multicultural Festival in 2000, “We knew from nothing. We had no footprints. We made it up as we went along,” she said.

The next year, the festival took place just after Sept. 11. “It was very somber because we lost a very special person, Norma Cruze Kahn, another of the organizers,” Graves said. Kahn died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Believing it was what Kahn would want, the organizers went ahead with the event.

Now in its third year, the festival has become “the hallmark event of this area,” said Graves, chief administrative aide to Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins.

“This year, as compared to last year, I thought it was a real feel-good day.” she said.

“The food was delectable. The entertainment was absolutely wonderful from around the world, and the children’s activity area was wonderful. There was so much to do, it is difficult to imagine it was in that limited area [at Lake Anne Plaza].

“It was a wonderful day for the entire community to come together and embrace our cultural diversity,” Graves said. “I think there were 5,000 - 6,000 people there.”

“It was unreal. I am still on cloud Number 9, just to see the different ethnic and cultural events” she said.

Graves said she particularly noticed a big response to her invitation for people to wear ethnic and cultural dress, she said.

During the musical events held on stage, the audience revealed a panoply of race, culture, ethnicity, dress, language, and age.

All were listening, smiling, and often dancing along with the music.

Even with the diversity cultures and ages “from the very young to the very old,” everyone felt comfortable and everyone felt very happy,” said Graves. “I just wish we could bottle it up and serve the rest of the world a dose.”

The idea for a Multicultural Day in Reston grew from an idea posed by Margaret Boyd, a former educator who lives in Reston.

At Reston’s celebration on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday several years ago, “we always had a moment to recognize other cultural groups,” Graves remembered.

“[Boyd] said we ought to make it a day. She said she wanted me to serve as chair, and I said, ‘Are you nuts?’”

But she did, and this year, she looked on proudly to see where the event had grown.

It began with a ceremony peopled by politicians and the release of “peace doves.”

Throughout the day, Graves said she enjoyed “Looking out at the sea of faces and the multitude of different ethnic and cultural groups, and seeing their different ages and cultures.”