12th annual Children's Cultural Parade a success

Event allows Vancouver, Evergreen students to tap into – and show off – their roots

By Justin Runquist, Columbian small cities reporter

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The quiet grounds of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site came to life Friday with the sound of shuffling feet, booming drums and dozens of third-grade classes trying to sing over each other.

It was the 12th annual Children's Cultural Parade, and more than 1,600 students from Vancouver and Evergreen public schools came to march in a massive celebration of their cultural heritage. Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, Councilor Larry Smith and local school leaders led the crowd on a walk from Pearson Air Museum up along Officers Row and down into the fort.

Near the front, the Columbia River High School Marching Band set the tempo with upbeat tunes. Behind them, teachers and parents led a drove of kids carrying placards and wearing traditional clothes in a tribute to their ancestors.

Many proud parents and grandparents watched from a distance, snapping photos of their kids and grandchildren. Doug Ramirez showed up to see his granddaughter, Tiara Irig, a Mill Plain Elementary student who chose to honor Ireland.

It was a natural choice, Ramirez said, considering Tiara's dad is Irish and he was born on St. Patrick's Day. This was the first year Ramirez and Irig came to the parade, and Ramirez said it was a good learning opportunity for the kids.

"It gives them a chance to explore other parts of the world," he said. "It's acceptance. They all accept each other."

Some parents, such as Carolina Abdalah, also dressed up and walked with their children. Abdalah walked hand-in-hand with her daughter, Nicole, a third-grader from Eisenhower Elementary. Both sported a traditional Colombian dress worn for a folk dance called the cumbia.

"Our heritage is very important for our family," Carolina Abdalah said. "It's important to remember their roots, where they came from, and to know that everybody in this country is an immigrant."

Abdalah came to the U.S. from Colombia 12 years ago. Her daughter was born in Vancouver eight years ago and finally made her first trip to her mother's home country last year.

Like many of the students, Nicole also wore a two-sided placard as a tribute to the country she chose to celebrate. She decorated it with pictures of Colombian currency, the national flag, a map of the country and empanadas.

Carolina Abdalah pointed to another picture on the sign and laughed.

"That's Shakira," she said. "She's from our country."

The kids worked for several months with their parents and grandparents, studying their cultural backgrounds before picking a country to celebrate, said Ranger Bobby Gutierrez, who organized the parade.

"What's really nice about it is everyone is celebrating everybody's uniqueness," Gutierrez said. "It really means something."