Jitendra “Jeet” Hiremath has two admirable reasons for orchestrating the inaugural Harrisburg Multicultural Festival, to be held next month in Harrisburg Park.
Pointing to his growing and ethnically diverse hometown, Mr. Hiremath thinks it is about time that an event celebrating the town’s cultural eclecticism was held in Harrisburg.
He also believes that he owes it to his son and daughter, as well as the community’s children, to teach them not only about their own rich and vibrant cultures, but those of their neighbors and classmates.
“They keep asking questions about a lot of different cultures,” says Mr. Hiremath, referring to his 11-year-old son, Jayin, and 9-year-old daughter, Anisha. “Sometimes we have answers, and sometimes we don’t have answers.”
Finding The Answer
Those exchanges prompted Mr. Hiremath, a lead analyst for Wells Fargo, to approach the town in June 2018 with his idea about hosting an international festival. He was soon introduced to Town Councilman Troy Selberg, who encouraged Mr. Hiremath to submit his resume for a brand new advisory board, the Harrisburg Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee, or HACH.
Today, some 14 months later, he and the other board members – Chairman Micah Cash, and members Marc Brun, Penny Vaughn and Toni Wheeler Jenschke – are hastily finalizing plans for the first-ever Harrisburg Multicultural Festival, scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, September 14. Admittance is free.
“The world is becoming a smaller place, and people are traveling a lot more than they’re accustomed to,” says Mr. Hiremath, an American with Indian roots, and who serves as vice chairman of the HACH, and also chairs the Harrisburg Multicultural Festival. “If our kids get to know a little more about different cultures, it will benefit them.
“So, why not start with something that will bring our community together,” continued Mr. Hiremath, noting that the festival will be an annual tradition. “People can interact and learn, and then we can do something for our children … so they can learn about other countries and cultures.”
What’s On The Agenda
The committee created “core teams,” and appointed leaders to each group to handle the logistics of the upcoming festival, such as the planning of musical performances and educational booths. The goal is to have between 15 and 20 countries represented at the event, though that figure could climb before plans are finalized next month.
The plan is for each country, a tentative list that now includes India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Morocco, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, England, Egypt, Sierra Leon, Australia and others, to have its own individual educational booth. Volunteers representing each nation will offer an assortment of activities, including musical and dance numbers that, in some instances, will require weeks of preparations and rehearsals.
Others are charged with assembling and wearing native costumes, while another group will share culturally unique artworks and other items. Mr. Hiremath’s wife, Anila, is part of the core team overseeing the performers.
The demand for so many volunteers has forced some unexpected but welcome alliances.
For example, Mr. Hiremath’s son, who is entering the sixth grade at Hickory Ridge Middle School, will be representing Morocco during the festival. But Jayin will also be playing the tabla, a traditional Indian drum, and singing and dancing with his younger sister, Anisha, during the event. Anisha is a member of the India team and will be starting the fourth grade at Harrisburg Elementary School later this month.
They will be joined by other volunteers, including a healthy sampling of students attending Hickory Ridge middle and high schools. Many are donating their time and talents to the effort.
Select food vendors will also be stationed at the park for the duration of the festival, allowing attendees to sample some of the cuisines of different countries, according to Mr. Hiremath. He added that organizers are receiving invaluable assistance from students attending Hickory Ridge middle and high school. The high school band will kick off the festivities by performing the national anthem.
An Open Invitation
“Around five or six of the countries are [being represented by] my friends at Wells Fargo, and they will be led by Lillian El Hani,” says Mr. Hiremath, whose wife also works for the bank. “The festival is open to everyone and anyone who is interested. We’re trying very hard not to say ‘No’ to anyone.”
Those interested in participating in the Harrisburg Multicultural Festival, or sponsoring the event, are encouraged to email Mr. Hiremath at email@example.com. Additional details can also be found on the Harrisburg Arts, Culture and Heritage Facebook page.
“There are very few forums where we try to bring the international community together,” says Mr. Hiremath, who also coaches soccer for the town’s youth recreational league. “Harrisburg is growing at a very fast pace, and people are coming from all over the world, and there isn’t one thing to bring them all together.
“We’re slowly detaching from the world. There are no avenues for our children, where they can meet people from different walks of life and exchange ideas. This festival is going to change that.”
The Details – Harrisburg Multicultural Festival
- Saturday, September 14
- 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Harrisburg Park
- Admission is free
- Hosted by the Harrisburg Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee