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Lakena Chhun, representing Cambodia, was part of the first DeSoto County International Festival Saturday at the Landers Center in Southaven.

The world came to DeSoto County Saturday when 14 different countries showed off their best to the area.

Called the first DeSoto County International Festival, the Landers Center in Southaven exuded an atmosphere of festive excitement with music, dancing, native clothes and tables showing different items that reflected each country’s culture.

An event put on to benefit the Hope Center community program, coordinator Sarah Bishop said organizers wanted to show there were clearly different shades between the cultural black and white that most DeSoto Countians should be aware of.

“Our team came together and determined that there needs to be a means to understand the culture that exists in DeSoto County,” Bishop, also a co-founder of the Hope Center, said. “In this way, we can rub shoulders with people that are our neighbors that we may not have ever spoken to. We’re here in the same building celebrating all of the cultures, watching performances, tasting the different food, seeing different arts and crafts and be enlightened in different ways by the different diversity that exists here in DeSoto County.”

Throughout the day, traditional performances, native foods, arts and crafts were featured for the people who came out.

And they certainly came out, as the convention center area and the hallway leading into it was filled with activity.

“This has been an incredible turnout,” Bishop said. “I’ve had many people walk up to me and say they couldn’t believe how many people showed up. Next year, we will have an even bigger turnout,” adding this year’s festival was put together quickly in a span of two months.

The countries represented ranged from a number of African locations, to Cambodia, Thailand, Jamaica, Mexico, Polynesia, Native Americans and others.

Bishop, who said she has done extensive global traveling, believes many people in DeSoto County are not fully aware of the cultural diversity that exists.

“It’s because people are not exposed to it quite often,” said Bishop. “People go to the grocery store, they may see someone and assume that they may be of a certain ethnicity, but they don’t truly know until they actually talk to somebody.”

Founder Stacy Dodd of the Hope Center said the festival does what his vision set out to do when the center was first conceived.

“We started out wanting to provide safe, fun and exciting events and this is the biggest event we’ve done so far,” Dodd said. “We are accomplishing the mission and actually going above and beyond our initial mission.”

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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