Portland doesn’t have the sprawling square footage of Chicago or the towering skyscrapers of New York City.

Maine’s “big city” may be dwarfed by its larger city cousins to the south and west, but Portland isn’t small on culture.

“There’s tons of diversity (in Portland),” said Michael Okigbo, coordinator of the annual Festival of Nations event, which returns to Deering Oaks on Saturday. “It’s a welcoming area with incredible life.”

The Festival of Nations celebrates Greater Portland’s diverse blend of residents while also promoting a sense of unity among locals whose heritages may differ, but who make Portland the rich cultural community that it continues to be.

Festivalgoers from Maine and “away” will congregate in Portland’s Deering Oaks park for the eighth year this Saturday to celebrate ethnic diversity and understanding with a day of dancing, music and food.

An array of musicians and performers take the stage throughout the day, starting at noon with DJ Jennifer Tulley who will play music from around the world. Local acoustic musician Adam Earley performs at 2:35 p.m. followed by a performance from an Irish dance troupe at 3:15 p.m.

Local Keelan Donovan brings his songwriting to the stage at 3:45 p.m. and the band Inkaswasi performs at 4:30 p.m. Rwanda and Burundi dancers will get the crowd ready for some dancing of their own when the children’s dance competition kicks off at 6 p.m. and the adult competition follows suit at 6:30 p.m.

Eric Bettencourt (6:45 p.m.) and Stream Reggae (7:30 p.m.) close out the evening’s on-stage entertainment.

While event attendees are sure to enjoy the family-friendly revelry, Okigbo hopes they take away something more lasting. “What I really hope for is they have a new perspective on Portland,” he said, noting that the festival helps “exhibit the life that’s in this city.”

And life there is, from Serbia, Somalia, India and Nigeria. From Ireland, Ethiopia and Greece.

Festivalgoers can peruse the unique creations of a host of craft vendors such as Millpond Threads, European Handicraft, Narevi Alpaca Collection and Passport of Africa.

And the abundance of diverse dishes being served up in Deering Oaks Park might make it hard to decide where to start. Food vendors include Le Tallie, Indian Palace, Frolic Concessions, Mama Mermaids Seafood, Zewdeu Ethiopian Kitchen, Spartan Grill, Ray Ray Cafe and Hoaria Majeed, among others.

Okigbo hopes attendees will take advantage of the unique opportunity to sample diverse food, buy diverse crafts and meet each other during Festival of Nations. “Ask questions, stay for the performances, try something new,” he said. If you’ve had Indian food in the past, why not try Nigerian food this time?

The event, Okigbo noted, gives locals the chance to grow as people and to see the collective heritages that make Portland the vibrant city it is. It’s also a chance to meet neighbors, learn from one another and appreciate how celebrating differences can bring a community together.

“Bring your family, bring a smile bring an open mind,” said Okigbo. “And bring your wallet. You’re going to want to eat a lot.”

 

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

[email protected]