PORTLAND – The steady beat of steel drums rolled through Deering Oaks on Sunday. A few dozen people — most carrying umbrellas — strolled through the park where vendors representing more than 30 cultures had set up shop, peddling their crafts, their artwork and their food.

It was the 10th annual Festival of Nations, an event designed to highlight diversity in the city. It is co-hosted by the city of Portland, the Friends of Deering Oaks and the Mugadi Foundation.

Michael Okigbo has helped organize the event for many years. His parents are of Nigerian descent, but he was born an American and has lived in Maine since he was 12.

“I don’t think people realize how much diversity is here in the city,” he said between bites of curry chicken. “Just looking at the restaurants alone you can see it.”

One of those restaurants, Haggerty’s on Forest Avenue, participated in the Festival of Nations for the first time this year. Saeed and Ghasson Hassoon, a father-son team from Iraq, sampled falafel, beef kebabs and sweet, sticky baklava.

Ghasson Hassoon said the festival was a great chance to get the word out about their restaurant, to show off their cuisine and to interact with other cultures.

The event went on all day Sunday but was hampered by rain for most of it.

Peter Dugas, who lives within walking distance of Deering Oaks, attended the festival with his 2-year-old daughter Theodora. They shared an Afghani dish of rice and meat and exotic spices while huddled under an umbrella.

“It was hard to go wrong,” Dugas said of the dish. “Really, I wanted to try a little of everything.”

Dugas said many of the faces he saw Sunday were familiar. He doesn’t go out to eat often, but when he does, it’s usually to a local ethnic restaurant. He likes that there are many choices.

The Festival of Nations has evolved in the last decade to include more cultures, Okigbo said. Compared to other cities, he said, Portland has always been a welcoming place for people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell


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