Multicultural groups unite for Roots Festival

When Rudy Soto traveled to Amsterdam a few years ago, he was impressed by the city’s Roots Festival, a seven-day open-air live music festival celebrating the diversity of cultures around the world.

This year, the now-20-year-old PSU sophomore had an idea: Why not have a similar festival right here in Portland?

Now after six months of weekly planning meetings, Portland State’s own Roots Festival, a celebration of cultural diversity at PSU, is about to become a reality. If everything goes according to plan, the June 3 event will be one of the largest events – in terms of size, group sponsorships and cost – ever put on by student groups at the university.

Eleven student organizations have signed on to co-sponsor the event, including United Indian Students of Higher Education (UISHE), the Chicano/Latino student group MEChA, the Queer Resource Center and student government. Members from the various groups have been meeting weekly since November to plan and pool resources for the event.

The festival also has a projected cost of $30,000 – $20,000 of which is slated for the main attraction, a concert by the Grammy-winning band Ozomatli. By comparison, a typical large-scale student group event, with food and live entertainment, might run $2,000-3,000.

The organizers hope to draw a crowd of thousands from both students and the greater Portland community to the all-day event, which, in addition to the concert, will feature a panel discussion on diversity and higher education and a presentation by the Illumination Project, an interactive theater troupe.

“PSU is supposed to be diverse. We have a lot of people represented here,” said Soto, who also serves as student group coordinator for UISHE.

The festival is not just focused on racial diversity, but all kinds of diversity, Soto said, from diversity of ability to diversity of political thought. With all of the different communities represented at PSU he wanted to see “just for one day people working together on something like this.”

“It’s not just about diversity of color, but diversity of thought,” said Mayela Herrera, multicultural affairs director for student government, who has also played a major roll in organizing the festival.

“We have the fastest growing population of diversity of any university, so it’s important that we celebrate it,” said Jessica Lyness, student government communications director. “We have a responsibility to foster and exemplify cultural awareness and to be leaders in promoting diversity.”

“We strategically planned the event to be on campus because we want students to be involved and the event to come from the campus,” Lyness added.

Festival organizers are enthusiastic about all elements of the event, but the biggest focal point by far has been securing the concert by Ozomatli, a 10-piece band whose membership, organizers say, demonstrates the type of diversity they wish to celebrate.

“The committee thought that it would be the perfect band to exemplify the focus of the festival,” Lyness said.

Securing a national-level musical act like Ozomatli would surely create a large draw for the event, and Soto said that the possibility has helped student groups stay involved in the project through months of weekly planning meetings.

“The big-name band has really kept people engaged,” he said.

The band’s $20,000 asking price is a hefty commitment, although the student groups hope to recoup much of the cost through ticket sales. Soto said that the organizers have a contract with the band ready to sign, but before they can finalize the agreement they must get the $20,000 in advance from the Student Activities and Leadership Program (SALP), the entity that oversees student groups at PSU. In order for SALP to agree to front the money, the sponsoring student groups must make a written commitment to pay back any of the $20,000 that isn’t recouped through ticket sales.

Soto appeared confident that the deal with the band would work out, but the organizers do have a back-up plan of inviting local bands to perform.

If the event is successful, student leaders hope to make the Roots Festival an annual event at PSU.

“There has been a divide between student groups and to be able to unify in celebrating diversity builds a foundation for future students to work from,” said student body President Erin Devaney. “Once we have a successful event, more students and groups will want to be involved in the future.”

?”Additional reporting by Emily Palm