Making up the Western Treasure Valley are a number of cultures, and no two are alike. From generation to generation, each culture encompasses its own unique set of customs and traditions, all of which began long ago. Across the nation, keeping traditions of ancestors alive or celebrating cultural history is an annual occurrence, and that holds true in the local region.
With a diverse population in the area, it is no wonder that year after year, people from throughout the area come together to organize and celebrate their traditions.
An occasion for all
Perhaps Ontario’s leading cultural gathering is one that occurs every year on the first Saturday in June. In an annual event a few years shy of being celebrated for 20 years, America’s Global Village Festival showcases the numerous cultures in the area.
The festival began in 2000 as a fundraiser for the Four Rivers Cultural Center and Museum. Now, however, it is a free, family friendly, occasion with a purpose of celebrating the diversity in the area.
Each summer, an average of nine villages gather at Lion’s Park to share with attendees cultural demonstrations, food, arts, crafts, dancing, free youth activities, live music and more, said John Breidenbach, CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
Throughout the years, various villages have been featured — some participate every year, and others have made an occasional appearance. Each village represents a cultural group in the area, including: Japanese, Americans Indians, Mexicans, Pioneers, Dutch, Scottish, Irish, German, African, Hawaiian and Basque.
As an organizer, Breidenbach said, he enjoys the annual affair because it showcases the strongest asset of this community: a multicultural area.
“It helps us tell our story of what we have,” Breidenbach said.” We all come together to just a have a good time.”
He adds that he also finds delight in the fact that the festival is like a big kick-off event for the summer.
“It’s like the kick off of the summer. There are big realms of events from that point and on,” he said.
Japan Nite Obon Festival
Among one of the longest-running cultural gatherings is that of Japan Nite Obon Festival.
With 72 years of celebrating the festival in the area, Obon is one of the major services observed in Buddhism, said Mike Iseri, an organizer for the event.
The annual day of observance is hosted in Buddhist Temples across the nation, including the Oregon-Idaho Buddhist Temple in Ontario. Obon is a day of meditation, recognition and appreciation for one’s ancestors, as it is a day of honoring them and Amida Buddha, according to the Oregon-Idaho Buddhist Temple website.
Derived from an ancient legend, the religious origins of Obon are traced back to one of the Buddha’s disciples: Mokuren Sonja (Moggallana), states the website.
While Obon is observed during the annual gathering, it is also a time of sharing Japanese culture with non-Buddhist attendees in the community. The festival offers attendees a taste of Japanese food, dance, music and dress, states the Buddhist temple webpage. Attendees also get the chance to view cultural displays and demonstrations, which in the past has included samurai swords, taiko drumming, kendo and more.
Traditionally been hosted at the Buddhist temple for nearly six decades, Japan Nite Obon Festival will take place at the Four Rivers Cultural Center and Museum this year.
“Over the years, we’ve had windstorms, rain, and heat with the outdoor event and have even had people taken to the hospital for heat exhaustion,” Iseri wrote in an email. “At the Cultural Center we can be in a climate-controlled facility which we hope will improve the experience.”
Basque Dinner and Dance
Another long-running tradition in the area is the Basque Dinner and Dance benefit, which began taking place at a Basque Boarding House in the year of 1948.
Hosted by the Ontario Basque Club, it is a tradition an event open to the public every year which celebrated its 71 years in February.
“In its current format, the event is held at the Four Rivers Cultural Center and features a traditional Basque dinner, dance performance, live lamb auction, and public dancing to live music,” states the club website.
Mexican Independence Day & Dia de los Muertos
About one month apart from each other, Mexican Independence Day and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) are traditional holidays celebrated in Mexican Culture. However, it wasn’t until several years ago when they began to observed publicly in the local area. Both traditions are now celebrated at the Cultural Center.
After putting together a Mexican consortium nearly seven years ago to gain a better understanding of what the center could offer the local Hispanic population, Matt Stringer, executive director, was able to come away with a holiday the cultural group legitimately celebrated, Stringer said.
Recognized on Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day is celebrated at the Cultural Center with folklore dancing, food, a proclamation and a reenactment of “el grito” by the Mexican Consulate of Boise, Stringer explained.
While the event is meant to commemorate the holiday, Stringer said, it also a time to connect attendees with resources in the area, such as social services.
Day of the Dead, a traditional Mexican holiday which seeks to honor deceased loved ones, is also hosted by the center. In fact, this year will mark the fifth of the annual occurrence.
During the event, Stringer said, local Mexican families and other groups build and decorate an altar with photos, food, and candles to honor loved ones who have died. Those alters are exhibited in the art gallery which are open to the public to view.