World-class culture: Fourth Plain International Festival

Fourth Plain shapes its rich diversity into a festival, itself into a destination

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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At first glance, the festivities Saturday in the lot on Fourth Plain Boulevard looked just like any block party.

There were a dunk tank, rock wall for kids, shave ice, music, dancing and a row of vendors.

But if you looked — and listened — carefully, the event was really spelled out in the people. It was punctuated by their different languages, their food from Thailand, Mexico, Eastern Europe and Hawaii, and in their ethnic dancing and entertainment.

To see this multicultural diversity, look no further than preschool-aged Akailia Do, who came to the International Festival with her grandmother. Akailia is Vietnamese, Portuguese and Hawaiian.

“I learned to do the hula,” Akailia said, as she lifted her arms and shook her hips.

“I think (the event) represents a lot of diversity along Fourth Plain,” reflected grandmother Hope Chaparro, as Akailia curled in her lap. “It seems more diverse now than it did five years ago.”

Saturday’s second annual festival was designed to shed light on the many cultures of Vancouver’s Fourth Plain Village area.

As the mix of ethnicity has grown in central Vancouver, so has the annual event. Last year, there were fewer vendors and less entertainment. This year, businesses, nonprofits and community groups lined the rows.

“This is twice as big as last year,” said Edward Esparza, who manned the festival’s dunk tank. “I honestly wasn’t expecting this.”

Esparza heads up the One of a Kind Drumline, an after-school program in Vancouver Public Schools that teaches youngsters ethnic drumming. At the dunk tank — which featured cameos from Vancouver city councilmen Bart Hansen and Larry Smith — Esparza was accepting donations for the program’s scholarship fund.

He said he was excited by the turnout and by the outpouring of support from community leaders.

A 37-year native of the Vancouver area, Esparza grew up in a poverty-stricken family. Part Native American and Hispanic, he remembers growing up feeling separated from the rest of his community.

He spent part of his childhood in a home off Fourth Plain. The area was not as diverse and it definitely didn’t feel like the community that turned out Saturday, he said.

“I think it’s about time,” Esparza said. “It doesn’t feel like there’s a separation in Vancouver anymore. This is the reality of our community. It’s not limited by culture.”

In fact, Kawika Hunt, owner of Hawaiian Time Cafe at 5000 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., thinks the cross-section of culture should be the draw of the area. A native of Oahu, he moved to the metro area for school and then opened the cafe in January 2010. The restaurant features signature dishes, such as mauna loa chicken and huli-huli chicken.

Hunt said that while the area is known for being lower-income, he’s seen a richness there not evident in some other neighborhoods.

“Fourth Plain is not a destination,” Hunt said. “During a festival like this, the idea is to turn it into a destination.”

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516; Twitter: Col_Courts; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.