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Thursday, April 18, 2024

UF public relations team celebrates hidden identities with Gainesville’s first Multicultural Day festival

The UF Bateman Team works to foster multiculturalism, unity with ‘Embrace the Hyphen’

Mayor Harvey Ward declares Feb. 24 the first annual Multicultural Day on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.
Mayor Harvey Ward declares Feb. 24 the first annual Multicultural Day on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.

Surrounded by vibrant creations and performances of artists from cultures throughout the world, over 300 people gathered in downtown Gainesville for a celebration of unity and diversity to commemorate the city’s first Multicultural Day. 

How Bazar became a hotspot for art and culture Feb. 24 as people joined to honor a combination of various cultures, backgrounds and identities at the Culturs Festival. 

Organized by the UF Public Relations Student Society of America’s Bateman team, the festival was just one event in the team’s ‘Embrace the Hyphen’ campaign, a student-led initiative to support multiculturalism. 

To work toward a more inclusive space for immigrants and multicultural individuals, the UF Bateman team created the Culturs festival to represent the magazine and proclaim Feb. 24 as Multicultural Day in Gainesville. 

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward, a UF public relations graduate himself, presented the team with an official proclamation in honor of the new Gainesville celebration. 

“We are such a diversity of cultures here in Gainesville,” he said. “It’s important to celebrate that every opportunity we get.” 

The female-run Bateman team is a public relations group of five UF seniors who compete against more than 75 teams across the country to create a campaign for a national client. UF’s team was tasked with representing Culturs Magazine, a global multicultural lifestyle network focusing on in-between cultures, according to its website

Olivia Maroney, a 22-year-old UF public relations and criminology senior and member of the UF Bateman team, said the festival was intended to represent and showcase hidden identities. 

“We’re trying to inspire everyone to celebrate the hidden diversity everybody has,” Maroney said. “We’re representing students in the hyphen… cross-cultural kids, refugees, military brats, immigrants and third-culture kids.” 

Although Maroney comes from Portuguese, Italian and Irish descent, people often assume she represents one specific nationality, she said. 

“We're trying to represent … an identity to me that is hidden and people don’t see, and we want people to move on from assumptions,” she said. “The campaign can apply to all of us. We all have hyphenated identities.”

When creating the campaign, the Bateman team conducted a survey and found 84% of Gainesville residents feel they need a community that embraces different cultures and makes them feel welcome, the team said in an Instagram post

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Immigrants also make up 11% of Gainesville’s total population, according to census data, and accounted for 24.4% of the city’s population growth from 2014 to 2019. 

Raj Selvaraj, a 20-year-old UF political science sophomore and ambassador for the campaign, was grateful as an Indian-Peruvian-American to be a part of an event that welcomes all identities, he said. 

“It’s very rare to see an event that celebrates both of your cultures,” he said. 

Gainesville vendors, live artists, performers and restaurants collaborated with the Bateman team, offering up a slice of their culture as part of the day’s festivities. 

Or a scoop, in the case of Awa Kiaby and Aisse Kane, whose catering company Flavorful offered a taste of West Africa to hungry attendees. They served marinated chicken and red jollof rice, a delicacy of Kiaby’s native Senegal. 

Kiaby said there’s not much representation of African food in Gainesville and enjoys when festivals like this give them a chance to showcase their traditional foods.

“It’s significant to everyone,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to exchange and get to know a little bit of everybody’s culture.” 

Peruvian delicacies were also served at the festival from the family-owned stand Latin Food Blessing, featuring original Peruvian ingredients and recipes like fresh guacamole, smoothies, empanadas, tamales, Peruvian ceviche and papa a la huancaína. 

Music echoed throughout the dimly lit space with world tunes by 23-year-old UF graduate DJ Jeremiah Ludicrous and a range of musical performances by Gainesville artists. A diverse group represented the event, with performances by poets, dancers, magicians and comedians like the UF comedy group Theater Strike Force and UF dance troupe the Belly Gators. 

Justin Strikowski, a 22-year-old UF computer science senior, identifies as Jewish American and performed magic tricks at the festival. He said the recent rise in antisemitism has, at times, held him back from expressing his cultural identity, and he appreciated the welcoming space the event created.

“I think the thing that puts people against each other is not talking to one another,” he said. “I don’t want to change anybody’s mind, I just want to let them into my perspective.”

Many vendors agreed the festival was a way for them to appreciate their own cultures and share them with others. 

Tatiana Saleh, a 26-year-old UF political design and urban design graduate, brought her handmade polymer clay jewelry business to the festival and said it was a way to share her combination of identities with others. 

“Being multicultural, my mother is from Nicaragua, and my dad is from Ethiopia, and they met in Jacksonville,” Saleh said. “I feel like my work is a mix of colorful stuff from both of those backgrounds with the cultural background of being raised where I am in [Florida].” 

Aside from the vendors, the festival showcased community initiatives aimed to support multiculturalism, such as the Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Inclusion initiative and Radiant Hands, a Gainesville nonprofit that helps provide young women and families with scholarships and emergency funding for utilities and rent. 

People visiting the festival were encouraged to express their hidden identities with a culture's confession activity: a poster where one could anonymously write a confession or take a confession from an envelope. 

Prompts encouraged participants to write about what they love about their culture, things they don't embrace about their identity or things people don’t know about their culture, among other topics. 

The UF Bateman Team also held a raffle at the festival with prizes, including gift cards for Satchel’s Pizza, Amazon, Upper Crust Bakery, BJ’s and two tickets to a Gator baseball game. 

The Culturs Festival is not the last event in the ‘Embrace the Hyphen’ campaign. The UF Bateman team will be holding a screening of the 2021 film “Americanish” March 5 at 6 p.m. in the UF Reitz Union auditorium. Iman Zawahry, one of the country’s first American-Muslim filmmakers to wear a hijab and UF College of Journalism professor, directed the film and will be attending the screening to answer questions. 

Contact Henry DeAngelis at hdeangelis@alligator.org and Alexandra Burns at aburns@alligator.org. Follow them on X @HaDeangelis and @alexaburnsuf.

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Henry DeAngelis

Henry DeAngelis is a third-year journalism major and the City and County Commission reporter for the Alligator. In his free time, you can find him on the basketball court or deep in a good book.


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