Recently, the Boston Globe ran a piece entitled Being white, and a minority in Georgia. The article focused on demographic changes taking place and Norcross residents who’ve grown to feel angry and isolated. It didn’t paint the area in a particularly flattering light. The symbol the author chose for the community was an old, faded Dairy Queen sign- a nostalgic symbol of Americana that calls to mind images of summers spent enjoying ice cream and corn dogs in a sleepy Southern town. In this article those memories are replaced with a Hispanic man slicing coconuts in the parking lot where the Dairy Queen used to be.
The article left me with a sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach and it took me some time to digest the words I’d read. For a couple days I kept coming back to it. Part of what made me feel so uncomfortable with the article was that it just wasn’t the Norcross that I’ve come to know. I don’t live in Norcross, but I work here every day and have a deep appreciation for the area.
Yes- Norcross is a very diverse place and it has changed extremely rapidly. Kind of like that gangly teenager who hasn’t really grown into their new body, Norcross (and all of Gwinnett County for that matter) is working to understand who they’ve become and who they’ll be. There are, no doubt, some who resent the changes they’ve seen and long for the way things used to be. But, those who were not represented in the Globe article are those who’ve accepted or even welcomed that change and are working to bring this community together and to embrace (and shape) its evolving identity.
The Norcross I know was well represented this past Saturday in the multiple cultural festivals that I, my daughter and thousands of others from here and all around Atlanta enjoyed. Three separate festivals, celebrating the rich cultural tapestry that can be found in this little part of the world, were held on the same day within just a couple miles of each other (I didn’t even make it to Japan Fest which was just up the road).
Our first stop was at the Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta for the Atlanta Korean Festival.
It was the first year I’d attended this event so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everything you could possibly imagine was squeezed into this festival. Cooking competitions? Yep. Table tennis tournament? I didn’t catch it, but apparently so. Kimchi and bulgogi and kids eating corndogs in a giant sandpit (seriously, there was a giant sandbox right in the middle of the festival). If all of that was enough to wear you out they also had a line of therapeutic massage chairs that you could test drive. Most everything was in Korean so we didn’t always understand what was going on, but trying to figure it out was part of what made it so fun.
The Gateway International Food & Music Festival
Held at Lillian Web Park in Downtown Norcross, the Gateway Festival strives to provide attendees with a little taste of the many cultures that can be found in the city.
If the Globe article had been my only reference for Norcross, I would have been confused to see such a diverse gathering of people enjoying being together. Just in the time we were there we saw a Bollywood dance group, Venezuelan dancers, Korean dancers and Bulgarian Folk dancing, and the audience was as varied as the performers. I honestly love this festival. It has a relaxed vibe with people stretched out on the grass just taking in bits and pieces of the cultures that they and their neighbors hold dear. A few festival goers were brave enough to salsa dance with some of the performers (including one of Norcross’ finest).
Before heading to our last stop I fueled up with a couple arepas, was talked into buying some dried fruit and caved into getting my daughter an ice cream cone as big as her head.
Mid Autumn Festival
The third and final stop in our whirlwind cultural tour was the Mid-Autumn Festival held in a parking lot off of Indian Trail-Lilburn Road. I hadn’t seen a ton of advertising about the event and just happened to pass by when they were hanging the banners a couple of days before, so I was a little surprised to see that the place was packed with people of all different races, nationalities and ages!! The walk in was lined with vendors selling international goodies, jewelry, trinkets, etc. There was a pretty impressive stage setup that had some sort of American Idolesque competition going on. On the far side of the lot was a run of tents with carnival type games.
All in all it was a really perfect day. It was special to have my daughter with me because I think it is important for her to grow up understanding that this is a big and diverse world and that there is a lot to take in- That we all come from different places and have different influences on our lives, but we can try to understand and appreciate the things that others value. She spent the night telling her Mom, her brother and sister about the dancing, and the brightly colored clothes and describing the gross bubble tea her Daddy made her try.
I always feel like these festivals highlight the best in our communities. It’s neighbors sharing time, and laughs, and their history. That’s the Norcross and Gwinnett I know. It is a work in progress, but there are some really amazing people working to bring people closer and to address the real challenges we face. What I’ve always found is that once we find a way to get around or work through the things that divide us, we aren’t all that different- we all love corn dogs and ice cream and having a place we can call home.