Bridging borders at the Cultural Exchange

12th annual event set for Feb. 1

By: Kristyne E. Demske | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 15, 2013

 Hundreds line up to taste ethnic foods at the 2012 Cultural Exchange. This year’s event is Feb. 1.

Hundreds line up to taste ethnic foods at the 2012 Cultural Exchange. This year’s event is Feb. 1.

File photo by Deb Jacques

When Sue Kattula moved to Sterling Heights in 1987, there were only about 400 Chaldean families like hers living in the city.

Now, she said, there are thousands. Her church, Holy Martyrs Chaldean Catholic Church, boasts 20,000 members, alone.

And Chaldeans aren’t the only ethnicity to make their home within Sterling Heights’ borders — there are cultures represented from around the world.

It’s that diversity that the city will celebrate with the 12th annual Cultural Exchange, set for 6-10 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Sterling Heights Senior Center, 40200 Utica Road.

“It’s a great way to come out, meet your neighbors, experience the cultures, the food, the dance of ethnic heritage,” said Steve Guitar, Sterling Heights’ community relations director. “It really brings the community together, and it’s a great way to experience Sterling residents and their organizations and what they have to offer.”

Sponsored by the 11-member Sterling Heights Ethnic Community Committee, the event attempts to represent the different cultures within the city, said Kattula, the committee’s vice chair.

She said visitors can learn about the different cultures through the food available for tasting at the event, by visiting the different exhibits and displays, and also through the entertainment offered.

In addition to entertainment from Chaldean, Indian, Scottish, Bulgarian, Macedonian, African-American and Polish communities, there will be performances by a Slavic dance troupe, and dances from students at Sterling Heights High School and Stevenson High School.

“I really encourage everyone to come out and see how similar all cultures are,” she said. “Coming to this event, I think it makes people feel similar and how close we are in everything: food, dance, the way we raise our children, the way we are educated.”

Sue Giallombardo, citizens’ services specialist for Sterling Heights, said there will be a Philippine hula dance team from St. Clair Shores, a Chinese sword demonstration from the Taija Star Association, and a Chinese dance team and violinists from the Multicultural Council of America in Warren.

The event typically draws about 1,000 visitors a year; a minimum $1 donation is suggested, and there will be free overflow parking and shuttle service available from Dodge Park.

“In the midst of deep winter here, there’s not a lot to do,” Guitar said, adding that some say the event is “their favorite thing to do in Sterling Heights.”

About 20 local restaurants will be at the event, with food either donated or purchased for tasting. Giallombardo said Holiday Pizza has donated lasagna, Brago’s will bring Macedonian food, and “we always have egg rolls from one of the Chinese restaurants.”

“It is a good way (to) taste, sample a lot that Sterling restaurants have to offer,” Guitar said.

The event is paid for through funds raised at the previous year’s event, not the city’s general fund, Guitar said. Representatives from various city groups, including the library, and fire and police departments, will also be on hand.

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