During the past 20 years, Perry Township has become a center of multicultural diversity on Indianapolis’ southside.
Students in Perry Township schools come from 67 countries, including Peru, Zimbabwe, Burma and Iceland. More than 2,500 current students are refugees. In 1998, the school system had 18 students learning English as a new language; this year, they have more than 4,700.
As families have come from around the globe to this corner of central Indiana, they’ve brought diverse restaurants, art, music and other cultural identities.
In celebration of its unique population, as well as the common bonds that make up the community, Perry Township leaders will host the annual Perry Cultural Festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Baxter YMCA.
Guests will experience artwork, music, dance and sports from countries all over the world. They’ll have the opportunity to try food from new places, hear what musical instruments from different cultures sound like and track the different cultural experiences with a passport.
“We continue to have an influx of newcomers to our community,” said Jo Ellen Buffie, chair of the event. “We want to make sure that we recognize and celebrate that which is unique, but in the end, we share far more in common than what we have different about us.”
The Perry Cultural Festival was founded in 2015 in an effort to recognize the diversity that exists in the area. The township is home to the largest population of Chin immigrants in the U.S., and it has become a center for refugee placement.
“When I was on the school board, I felt that we welcomed well, and word got out. People chose to come here,” Buffie said. “We want to honor the people who put down their roots long ago in Perry Township, but we also want to honor the people who are choosing to plant their roots now.”
Perry Township schools have partnered with the Baxter YMCA and the University of Indianapolis to host the festival. Funding was provided through the Festival Fund of the International Center, the Indianapolis Foundation and the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation.
Other partners included Franciscan St. Francis Alliance, Greater Southside Business Alliance, Indiana Futsal and Indy Eleven.
Throughout the day, people will be exposed to the different traditions recognized around the world. The Mary Minstrels choir from Mary Bryan Elementary School will perform songs of unity, while Abraham Lincoln Elementary School President of Percussion ensemble will offer drum rhythms from different cultures.
The Miami Nation will do a Native American tribal drum demonstration. Chin and Indian dance will be featured as well.
“The entertainment is going to be very interactive, where we have the performers get the audience involved to learn a little bit,” Buffie said.
Essays, poetry and a video presentation will reveal students’ thoughts on diversity. People can try out the sport of futsal — indoor soccer played on a hard court — or take part in an inflatable soccer kick organized by the Indy Eleven.
Children can make peace signs, Native American dream catchers or Dia de los Muertos masks, and food trucks will offer a variety of international food.
“We’re celebrating the mosaic of culture that is Perry Township,” Buffie said. “We are raising our children in a global society. The theme is ‘celebration,’ and we continue to say that as much as we can. This is a very, very good thing that our children are growing up in a community that is so diverse and rich in culture.”
Perry Cultural Festival
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Baxter YMCA, 7900 S. Shelby St., Indianapolis
What: A celebration of the diverse cultures in Perry Township.
Activities: Live music, kids zone, cultural entertainment, educational booths, a bookmobile and sports.