In the summer of 1976, Kansas City’s first Ethnic Enrichment Festival was held. From those humble beginnings some 46 years ago, the festival has grown into an annual event held the third full weekend in August.
Each year, thousands of local residents parade under the many flags of the nations represented. They walk through the front door and immediately seek out their favorite dining tent or head back to the pavilion to catch the performances.
Most people don’t care what goes on behind the scenes and why these many volunteers from over 60 different nations come together every summer. 2019 estimates show that over 40,000 first generation immigrants are in our community. Each tent represents an organization dedicated to giving back. Whether it’s in the form of scholarships for immigrant children or resettlement assistance for refugees, the money goes to the community.
When you talk to the volunteers who work in the various tents, you feel a sense of tradition and pride. The food is traditional and often homemade. Families spend days preparing the huge amount of produce needed to supply the festival. And the same people come back every year to help.
“Bing” Sakach is the former president of the Greater Kansas City Filipino Association that brings in retired grandmas to make spring rolls, barbecue, and noodles. These women are supported by their daughters. Sakach emphasizes how important events like this are to support the families supported by the Philippine Association.
Kessler Plowright has been running the Jamaican Tent Grilling Team since 1989. He came to help his mother who was struggling to keep up with the food preparation as the festival became more popular. That first year he had to let the line know it would be 40 minutes before they ran out of food. He watched the whole line sit on the floor and wait patiently.
Now, 33 years later, he cooks over 800 lbs of chicken and 200 lbs. This year, Plowright’s great-nephew also joined the team, along with his family and neighbors, to carry on the tradition.