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Greater Medford Multicultural Fair brings the valley together

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Photographer Mary WilkinsKelly hangs images of 1000 Shades of Color, a project to capture a thousand people of color in Southern Oregon, during the opening of the Greater Medford Multicultural Fair in downtown Medford on Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Locals and members of the North Medford High School band bust to some Zumba moves led by Anita Sanchez at the Greater Medford Multicultural Fair in downtown Medford on Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Vance Beach talks with Laure Reid of Prospect about BASE (Black Alliance and Social Empowerment) at the Greater Medford Multicultural Fair in downtown Medford on Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune

The Pear Blossom Park blocks were decorated with booths and tables Saturday for the Greater Medford Multicultural Fair downtown, while a stage on the lawn was backed up by a sound system capable of carrying the sounds of the North Medford High School band, a Zumba show and a performance of belly dancers to listeners blocks away.

As the heat of the afternoon was rising and the belly dancers took the stage, Latina girls in traditional dress and hair hovered nearby, waiting for their turn to perform. Latina woman worked behind the stage on the bent heads of girls, sitting with all the patience childhood can muster as the women carefully wove ribbons and flowers into their hair.

Food trucks dotted the perimeter hoping to catch hungry visitors. From Caba empanadas to Siano’s Karibbean CookHouse, the latter awarded the first prize at last month’s Best In Southern Oregon Food Truck & Vendor Competition.

Vendors sold tie-dyed wares and handicrafts, the Medford police manned a booth near a parked fire truck. Nonprofits and government agencies were scattered throughout the fair, offering resources to the diverse groups of those in need. Among these, Redolfo “Puma” Quevedo stood watch over the Recovery Cafe and El Camino Seguro booth.

The Recovery Cafe is for anyone and everyone, but El Camino Seguro is for all Latinos and Spanish speakers — it’s a place where they can escape the language or cultural barriers that might slow their recovery elsewhere.

“For me, it’s real deep because we’re all from similar cultures. We fellowship. Man, it’s like a big family: everyone’s in there talking our language, we have our food, we eat together, we can talk about what’s bothering us, what’s holding us back in our journey of recovery,” he said.

Through El Camino, Seguro said addicts can not only find fun and love in recovery, but resources to help with the fallout of addiction, unemployment and homelessness.

Sitting in the center of the park blocks — in the midst of black-and-white portraits strung like garlands — photographer Mary WilkinsKelly contemplated her soon-to-be-completed project.

She is Vietnamese, she said, and while she’s traveled and lived in East Africa as a child, it wasn’t until she moved to Southern Oregon 22 years ago that she felt really like an outsider. It was seven years ago at the multicultural fair that she started photographing black-and-white portraits of the people of color in the valley.

“All my life, I have tried to fit in, and I never really have,” she said. “I guess I want this to be a way to celebrate all those who are different. It’s OK to be different. It’s wonderful to have color.”

It has been harder to find people of color to photograph, she said, because many of those who want to sit for portraits are light-skinned. Some have resented her work for excluding white people, but she said she wants to create representation for those who are not already used to seeing others who look like themselves.

“One gentleman broke down in tears, seeing my work. He told me he’s lived here for 30 years and this is the first time he’s felt represented,” she said.

WilkinsKelly said she will call her project complete when she has 1,000 photos, and she believes she’s close. Three hundred were on display Saturday afternoon, but there are more at home waiting to be processed. Her work can also be seen and she can be reached on her Facebook page, 1000 Shades of Color.

But she’s getting older now — nerve pain in her hands have dashed a previous dream of adding a zero to her original number and making 10,000 portraits, she explained.

“My dream, when its all done, is to have all these portraits made up larger than life. Then have a big party, and invite everyone who is in my portraits to be there,” she said as her face lit up.

At the end of the park blocks, Vance Beach waited behind neatly stacked pamphlets with his toddler son beside him, representing BASE (Black Alliance and Social Empowerment) and its multifaceted work.

“We’re trying to build a more connected, inclusive, represented community,” Beach said.

BASE organized the first food truck competition in the valley, a prime example of the heart of its work. Youths were encouraged to help as the adult and elder food truck operators worked. It’s important, Beach explained, that they see someone who looks like them owning a business, being successful.

BASE’s website is designed to be a hub of resources for the community and those who want to support the group, he said. They have a directory of Black-owned businesses, lists of job opportunities, and scholarships for Black youth.

Among its many events, BASE hosted the first Juneteenth celebration in Oregon three years ago. It’s hosted celebrations for Martin Luther King Jr. day, and Kwanza is coming up, too.

“For us, it’s about making sure representation is there, because that’s when you know you really matter,” he said.

“For this event, we are just one group, a part of so many in the community, and I think its really beautiful to see them all, because that’s what makes a community special,” Beach said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.