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Cityroots Festival to Celebrate L.A.'s Cultural, Ethnic Diversity

Almost two year’s worth of detective work--snooping around the city’s ethnic communities, ferreting out skills and talents by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department--will be put to good use this weekend in the huge Cityroots Festival at Griffith Park.

This free, two-day celebration of newly arrived immigrants’ traditions focuses on the music, dance, crafts and foods of the groups who have arrived in Los Angeles over the last 20 years.

It’s a chance for old-timers to learn about newcomers and for newcomers to learn about each other in the laid-back atmosphere on Griffith’s broad lawn. There will be--among other treats--scenes from Chinese opera, an Armenian folk choir, toe-tapping Tex-Mex music, demonstrations of Guatemalan back strap weaving, Thai vegetable carving and ethnic food galore.

The festival will feature participants from Armenia, Argentina, Belize, Cambodia, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and smaller, little-known ethnic groups.

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For example, Los Angeles is home to 3,000 Garifuna, a black Carib ethnic minority group from Belize, most of whom have arrived in the last 10 years. Anita Martinez is part of a Garifuna group that will be performing at 1 p.m. today.

“This is music that we grew up with, not music that was performed on stage, but at celebrations such as weddings and wakes,” she said. “We want to let people know about Garifuna so we have adapted these dances to the stage.”

Wearing what Martinez prefers to call “cultural attire” rather than costumes, the 10 dancers will be accompanied by two drummers and five singers.

A Cuban Remembrance

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Frank Llopis and his orchestra, which will perform at 4 p.m. today, usually plays at private Cuban clubs in the city and at Cuban weddings, but rarely outside the Cuban community. They play traditional Cuban dance music: mambo, cha cha and bolero.

“Our music reminds older Cubans of what they listened to in Cuba,” Llopis said. “Performing at a mixed-ethnic festival is a new experience for us. It will be nice for all of us to hear each other.”

No ethnic festival is complete without a liberal dose of exotic foods and this weekend offers a chance to learn how to cook them as well as the joy of tasting them. At the Cook’s Corner, seven women will demonstrate typical dishes of south India, Korea, Mexico, Belize, Cambodia, Guatemala and Iran.

“These women are not professional cooks but are well known in their communities for their cooking talents,” said Susan Auerbach, Folk Arts Coordinator for the Cultural Affairs Department. “They don’t cook from recipes but rather from instinct and memory.” Each one-hour demonstration (today from 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.) will be hosted by folklorist Sandra Weatherby.

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While observers will have a chance to taste the dishes at Cook’s Corner, those with larger appetites can inexpensively lunch at a dozen or so food booths selling authentic foods such as Armenian pizza (lahmajun), Argentinean meat pies (empanadas) and Filipino egg rolls (lumpia).

Performances on 2 Stages

About 10 performing groups will appear each day. The south stage will feature primarily Latino groups: Today, the Garifuna Singers and Dancers from Belize; on Sunday, Marimba IXIM with musicians from many Guatemalan villages.

The north stage is somewhat sheltered by a grove of trees where the more intimate Asian and Middle Eastern music can be better seen and heard. Today, a troupe of Korean musicians and dancers will perform traditional masked dances. On Sunday, the Vo Family from Vietnam, who have been in the United States for a year, will present Vietnamese folk opera, Buddhist ritual music and Vietnamese chamber music.

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Crafts demonstration booths will emphasize process rather than product. Crafts will not be sold, but visitors can watch and learn how Thais carve vegetables such as turnips and carrots into fantasy floral shapes and see Cambodian weavers using fine silk threads. An Armenia oud-maker will demonstrate how he makes the Middle-Eastern lute-like instrument.

There will be a Mexican saddlemaker, Chinese calligrapher and a Honduran woodcarver. Since many of the artisans do not speak fluent English, information will be posted and translators will be available in many booths.

Three special events at the festival will celebrate Filipino culture, car culture and kid culture.

Festival of Flowers

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The Filipino Santacruzan procession is a festival of flowers which is celebrated each May in America and in the Philippines. Dozens of community organizations in the Filipino community each elect a reina (queen). The young women will parade under floral hoops in front of the south stage beginning at noon on Sunday, in a procession narrated from the stage so that first-timers can understand the significance and symbolism of the rite.

Vehicles of Expression celebrates carlore today from noon to 5 p.m. Fifteen cars including lowriders, hot rods, mini-trucks and vans--one encrusted with brass ornaments--will be on display and their owners will be on hand to talk about their hobby, individualizing and customizing cars. There’ll be a demonstration of pinstriping, airbrushing and the dancing bed (a way of manipulating the rear end of mini-trucks).

Kids won’t be excluded from the festival: Carol Merrill-Mirsky eavesdropped at playgrounds to document the sing-song, rhyming, repetition of games children pass down from one to another, tuning her ear to ethnic differences. To demonstrate, she will present groups of children from three local schools representing blacks, Latinos and Anglos: Hillcrest Drive Elementary School, 28th Street Elementary and Canyon School from 2 to 4 p.m., both days.

The Cityroots Festival takes place from noon to 5 p.m. today and Sunday near the park’s merry-go-round on Crystal Springs Drive. Admission is free and there is plenty of parking including the south end of the zoo lot where a shuttle will to festival will be available.

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