Midtown Residents Association members don't have to travel to New York to visit the United Nations; it's right in their own backyards.
The neighborhood association will celebrate its cultural diversity during the second annual Multicultural Potluck on Saturday, June 20, at Hoover Park. The popular event, which attracted more than 100 neighbors last year, is Midtown's answer to a growing conundrum among Palo Alto's neighborhood associations: how to attract and engage new residents from other cultures in their increasingly diverse neighborhoods.
The cultural diversity became apparent to Midtown leaders at one of their annual fall ice cream socials. Association leaders discovered attendees with roots in 36 different countries through an activity in which residents and visitors marked their family heritage on a large World Heritage Map. They also played a game in which people had to identify the cultures associated with artifacts from around the world, association President Sheri Furman said.
"Like all of Palo Alto, Midtown has become quite ethnically diverse," she said. "We don't have a good way of measuring the effect of the potluck, but face-to-face communication is always a good way to get to know your neighbors."
Last year's potluck also took place in June, supported by volunteers from the association's steering committee and the group Midtown Teen Global Citizens.
The event brought together residents and local cafes and restaurants to share cultural dishes and to provide an opportunity for children to learn diversity and culture through fun hands-on activities.
A carved nut on display from an Australian boab tree and a traditional native Hawaiian lau lau, a dish made from taro leaf-wrapped pork, were among the cultural artifacts that were part of a guessing game.
And people not only brought ethnic food -- some dressed in traditional outfits.
One attendee, Samina Sundas, who is of Pakistani heritage and wore a sari, said she made a connection with the event coordinator.
"All great religions encourage its followers to love their neighbors. But to love our neighbors, we must know our neighbors. In order to build kind and compassionate communities, we must make it a priority so we can leave a better world for our next generations," said Sundas, founding executive director of the American Muslim Voice Foundation, an organization dedicated to community and peace building.
This year's attendees are asked to bring dishes reflecting their cultural heritage, which will be supplemented by food donations from Midtown restaurants such as Round Table Pizza, Indochine, Palo Alto Cafe, Subway, Baskin Robbins and Starbucks.
Last year's potluck featured diversity activities for children, such as making Native American dreamcatchers and Japanese koi windsocks, a cultural trivia showcase where people identified the artifacts and Midtown's very own "World Soccer" game. There will be similar activities at Saturday's event, Furman said.
IF YOU GO
What: Midtown Residents Association Multicultural Potluck (open to all Midtown residents)
Where: Hoover Park, 2901 Cowper St., Palo Alto
When: Saturday, June 20, noon-3 p.m.
Cost: Free, but attendees are asked to bring a meal that reflects their cultural heritage