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Four Years and Counting

Multicultural Festival gearing up for Sept. 20.

What began as one Reston woman's idea has blossomed into a popular annual event drawing nearly 5,000 people from around the region.

This week, organizers of the Reston Multicultural Festival, scheduled for Sept. 20, are putting the finishing touches on plans for the 2003 celebration of diverse cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds.

Ellen Graves, the event's co-chair, said it has become a "signature event in Reston." Graves, who is an aide to Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), thinks it is important to celebrate the diverse landscape of Reston. "I have lived here for 20 years and to me, multiculturalism means that I can live in a community without feeling threatened and feel comfortable going anywhere and talking to anyone," Graves said. "Multiculturalism just gives you a confidence to move about a community."

Graves credited Margaret Boyd, a longtime resident and multiculturalism advocate, with pushing the idea forward four years ago. "I have seen it evolve from an idea of Margaret's work on our annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration to now becoming the hallmark and signature of Reston and Northern Virginia," Graves said, adding that its significance was increased after Sept. 11. "It is just becoming an event that the entire community looks forward to.

HELD IN THE HEART of a community founded and built on the ideals of inclusion, opportunity and dignity, the Reston Multicultural Festival, by "saluting diversity, celebrating unity," has distinguished itself, its sponsors say, as an important reminder of Reston's past and future, not to mention an annual source of civic pride.

"It's really starting to develop into a major event," said Haywood Hopson, the festival's special events director. "It's important because the United States keeps becoming more and more diversified and culturally sensitive. It also helps us with our geography and about where and how are neighbors lived."

The event, Hopson said, is a celebration of global cultures not global politics. "We stay away from flags," he said, before adding that seven embassies, including Egypt, Russia and the Ivory Coast, are scheduled to have a presence at this year's event.

Hopson went on to say that the early success of this young festival can be attributed to Reston, itself. "Members of all cultures feel welcome and comfortable here," he said. "Clearly the event is in keeping with Reston's mission and vision."

Graves agreed. "In Reston, it is a perfect fit for our community. The residents of Reston are so multicultural to begin with. It's like living in a mini-United Nations," she said. "The involvement and the commitment from our citizens of Reston adds to the growth of the festival."

FOR HOPSON, each year's event brings something new and this year's edition is no exception. One thing has remained constant, he explained. "Every year I am reminded that there is not much difference between one another. We all laugh, we cry, we tell jokes," Hopson said. "No matter what the culture is there is always an opportunity to learn, to enjoy, to share from each other and that is what this festival is all about."

Several thousand people are expected to peruse the arts and crafts booths, sample the various delicacies from around the globe and sway to a multitude of international sounds, including Irish Caberet, Bolivian Folk Music and a Slavic vocal ensemble. "Music is the universal language," said Caren Anton, chair of the entertainment committee. "Music is what brings different cultures together."

For the first time, all of the Lake Anne restaurants will also participate in the one-day event, Graves said. "The food will be better than ever," she said.

As has become tradition with the event, an assortment of crafters from around the world have been invited to the festival to sell their traditional wares on Saturday. Kenyan baskets, Irish scarves, Balinese wood boxes and Indonesian hand-crafted jewelry are just a few of the items scheduled to be on sale at the festival's "exotic bazaar" this year.

The Sept. 20 event will kickoff at 10 a.m. and run until 6 p.m. at historic Washington Plaza on Lake Anne in Reston. Also new this year, the configuration of Washington Plaza will be broken down into different continents, Graves said.

Planners for this year's event have added something for the youngest festival-goers at this year's event, including a new children's activity center complete with an international puppet show and a Salsa dancing demonstration, Hopson said. "Young or old, people of all ages should come and embrace our global celebration."