Community shares cultures

Published 11:37 am Monday, April 23, 2012

Walter Schwartz tops tostadas during the Taste of Nations Saturday at Oak Park Mall. -- Eric Johnson/

The people of Austin came together over food and music Saturday at Oak Park Mall.

More than a thousand gathered for the third annual Taste of Nations, a community-wide event to introduce people to the foods, sounds and backgrounds of the many different cultures represented in Austin.

“They feel like they’ve traveled around the world in an hour,” said Jake Vela, director of the Welcome Center.

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More than 20 nations were represented with tables that included food, posters and information. A vast variety of foods was available, from cinnamon rolls to chocolate bread to spicy tamales.

Many performers were also on hand, like the Austin High School Mariachi band, the cast of Riverland’s performance of “Rent,” and many more.

“Obviously we have a lot of food, but it’s not just about food,” said Erin Haag, who’s on the committee that organizes Taste of Nations. She’s also the outreach coordinator for Austin Adult Learning.

Haag said the annual event brings together people of different backgrounds.

“Austin is a very diverse community, and a lot of people don’t always see the diversity all in one place,” Haag said.

The food and music brings people together, and Vela said it develops into a way for neighbors to start a dialogue.

“The goal is for people to start interacting, start coming together, building community through dialogue,” Vela said.

Along with the tables for nations, others were set up for a variety of community agencies like the Parenting Resource Center and the Welcome Center.

The event was entirely free, and Haag said all the donations from sponsors and the people who ran booths were very important.

“It’s just a great event for everybody to come together,” she said.

Haag and Vela thanked the many sponsors, including Oak Park Mall, Riverland and Austin Public Schools, for supporting the event.