VALLEY REFUGEES CELEBRATE THEIR MANY CULTURES: FORUM SPONSORS GATHERING AT FAIRGROUNDS
by Charles McCarthy, The Fresno Bee, Calif.

The Fresno Bee (California)
August 27, 2006 Sunday

Aug. 27--Some 20 dancers in traditional Hmong clothing watched Saturday
as a group of Vietnamese performers danced to Southeast Asian music.

Both groups had earlier watched as two young folks with Armenian names
and a music teacher from Belarus sang the haunting Russian classic
"Otchitchornyia," known in English as "Dark Eyes."

It was a small part of the Refugee Recognition program at the Fresno
Fairgrounds sponsored by the Central California Forum on Refugee
Affairs.

The forum's chairwoman, the Rev. Sharon Stanley, estimated that
more than 350 people attended the four-hour event that featured
a lunch of various ethnic foods, tables with displays such as
wooden hand-painted Russian nesting dolls, information booths and
cross-cultural entertainment.

Stanley, founder of the Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries,
showed letters of recognition from federal and state legislators. She
introduced one of the day's award winners, Houa Lee, who held a trophy
for arts and performance.

Other awards were for leadership, education and business. The
refugee affairs forum calls itself a community-based nonprofit. It
was established in 1979.

The forum's goals are the promotion of understanding between refugees
and the community, promotion of empowerment and self-determination
for refugees, and encouragement of cross-cultural awareness.

Jessy Mai, 14, and his 6-year-old cousin Stephanie Nguyen arrived after
lunch and watched the cultural dances and singing. Their parents came
to the United States from Vietnam about 20 years ago, Jessy said.

"My parents want us to have a better life," he said. "Our parents,
they had a rough life in Vietnam."

Bart and Loanne Fielder were there to watch two of their three
daughters in a Vietnamese dance. Loanne Fielder immigrated 20 years
ago from Vietnam. Their three daughters were born in the United States,
but Loanne Fielder said, "I want them to know where they came from."

All three girls are learning the Vietnamese language and their cultural
heritage, Bart Fielder said.

Around a corner in the fairgrounds' Commerce Building, Irina Kosterin
sat behind a Russian, Slavic and Ukrainian display of brightly painted
wooden nesting dolls. Kosterin, who came from southern Russia, has
been in the U.S. for 14 years.

"It's nice to have ... traditional festivals," she said.

She wants her children, 11-year-old Antony and 6-year-old Cristina,
to be multilingual.

"They attend Russian school in a Ukrainian church," she said. "They
speak Spanish, too."

After they finished their performance, "Dark Eyes" trio member Ruzan
Orkusyan said she sings in English, Russian and Armenian.

And, she said, "I'm learning Spanish."