By Amanda Wyatt; Photography by Michael Heller
From bagpipes and Balinese rice cakes to Taiko drumming and Dutch tulips, it’ll be a small world after all for Sag Harbor this Friday, when the annual Multicultural Night returns to the Sag Harbor School District.
This year, 28 different countries will be represented at the festival, which takes place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson Middle-High School gym and auditorium. In addition to a smorgasbord of ethnic eats, this year’s festival will feature music, dancing, games and other activities from around the globe.
“We try to do something a little different every year,” explained Cheryl Bedini, a Sag Harbor Elementary School parent who has organized the event for several years.
“When you walk in, you’ll get a passport and a compostable plate and utensils, and once you go in the food hall, every table you go to has a stamp for your passport,” she said.
The tables — each representing an individual country — will feature food or other delights from that part of the world. For those involved, it is a chance to share their ethnic background or another culture they appreciate.
“I do the cooking for the Peru and Argentina tables, but [my husband] works the table, since that’s his background,” she said.
To represent Argentine cuisine, Bedini is considering making empanadas, as well as Alfajores, which are “like a butter cookie with dulce de leche in the middle.”
“And then for Peru I tend to do chicken with a chili cheese sauce called Ají de Gallina, and I make a purple corn drink that’s called Conchita Morada,” she said.
Parent Teacher Student Association President Stacey Britt, whose family has a home in Bali, is in charge of the Balinese table. She is thinking about bringing Jaja Batun Bedil, a sticky rice cake with syrup that she says is something like a dumpling.
In Bali, she said, people often put flowers and other offerings to the gods in baskets.
“That’s kind of the theme of my table,” Britt said.
And halfway through the evening, Todd Bennett, a parent who plays the bagpipe, will come into the cafeteria and lead festival goers down the hall to the auditorium for the entertainment portion of the night.
“We’re lucky enough to have a school where the auditorium is separate from the food hall so that you don’t have such a huge cacophony of noise. We have a lot of performances, so it’s nice for them to be on stage with proper lighting and things like that,” Bedini said.
The festival will feature more entertainment than in years past, with nine different acts set to perform. Taiko Tides, a Japanese drumming group from Stony Brook University, will be performing, as well as Greek, Irish, Mexican and Shinnecock dancers.
There will also be a martial arts demonstration, as well as students singing songs in Russian, French, and Italian.
But the multicultural festival was not always such a grand affair. When Bedini first attended the event, she felt it was somewhat lackluster, especially compared to the multicultural night at Springs School.
“So I went to the PTA meeting and I said, ‘Why can’t we be more like them?’ And they said, ‘Here, here’s your budget, you can do it,’” she recalled.
Britt, whose family moved to Sag Harbor two years ago after living in Hong Kong, called the event “so positive.” She added that she was glad the event now involved Pierson Middle-High School, as well as Sag Harbor Elementary School.
“Now that it’s a district wide event — it started out as an elementary school event — but since this is Pierson, we’re trying to make it a complete school experience,” Bedini explained.
Students enrolled in the high school’s International Baccalaureate program would be helping out as part of their community service, Bedini said, and students taking French will continue to run their own table.
While the event is budgeted through the PTA, there is a suggested donation of five dollars per family.
“It’s really a give-back event to the community. A lot of people come to this and they’re happy about it and don’t mind donating and so this year we’re focusing on raising money for the [food] pantry and John Jermain Memorial Library,” Bedini said.
And as Bedini pointed out, the multicultural festival is as much an educational experience as it is a night of fun.
“Just by stopping by a table and sampling somebody’s food and seeing how they’re dressed in their country’s traditional attire, that in and of itself is going to be a learning experience,” she said.