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Denison to celebrate its immigrant community in first-ever heritage festival

The town of Denison will celebrate its immigrant community with a festival on Saturday.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
Denison will celebrate its immigrant community with a festival on Saturday.

A western Iowa city will hold its very first Immigrant Heritage Festival tomorrow. People in Denison will get the chance to celebrate the small town’s diverse communities.

The festival will feature everything from cultural dances to a parade to the unveiling of the community’s newest mural — a work of local art that reads “Immigration is Beautiful.” The inaugural event will also feature food trucks, performances by high school students and activities for kids.

President of the Denison chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Alma Puga, said the festival is meant to be a way for immigrants of all backgrounds to share their cultures.

“Immigrants are pretty much the reason why our town is still here,” Puga said. “Without immigrants, I don't think we would have a good-sized town.”

In recent years, Puga said she’s seen a growth in the town’s immigrant community – with residents from Sudan, Laos, and Central American communities. The 2020 census showed more than a third of the community is foreign-born.

Local community members help to paint the town's new mural celebrating immigrants.
Courtesy of Denison Parks and Rec Facebook
Local community members help to paint the town's new mural celebrating immigrants.

Vice president of LULAC Denison Patty Ritchie said she’s excited for the chance to highlight all the different languages, dialects and customs that make up Denison. She said it’s just as important to celebrate the town’s German immigrant roots as much as it is to embrace the budding immigrant populations.

“I think it's going to open up conversations, I think it's going to open up relationships,” she said. “And I think it's going to bring more of an understanding.”

Ritchie said she wishes more Iowans understood the amount of diversity the town holds.

“I think that they see us as just a meatpacking plant community,” Ritchie said. “And what they don't understand is that we're so much more. We are cultivative. We are blossoming in culture.”

The event will also serve as a fundraiser for a scholarship fund for Latino seniors at Denison High School. Puga said she hopes the festival can help them increase the number of students who receive financial aid for college. This year, LULAC Denison is awarding three students with $1,000 scholarships, but Puga hopes that number can grow to five in the coming year.

Festivities will begin at 10 a.m. and continue until 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Kendall is Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA.