In Northern India it’s a festival to celebrate nature’s bountiful harvest.
And on Saturday, despite being 8,400 miles away from its roots in Punjab, the Vaisakhi Festival – being hosted by the Punjabi American Association of Manteca – will descend on Woodward Park for the sixth straight year to bring a dose of culture and custom to all who wish to participate.
The free event, which will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., will feature traditional dances, games, and food for people who are interesting in learning more about a growing ethnic subset of the Central Valley.
“I think that it’s very important to have events like this when we live such hectic lives,” said Mandeep Bhuller, the spokesman for PAAM. “It’s a very popular event in the Northern part of India, but it’s mainly an event to have traditional folk dances and celebrate the harvest season.
“A lot of the children in families here were born in America and not everybody gets the chance to go back every year and experience something like this, so it keeps them connected to their culture and their heritage and I think that’s something that is very important.”
Bhuller estimates between 1,500 and 2,000 people from throughout the area will attend the event. Last year, he said, people came from as far away as Fresno and Bakersfield to participate. Lathrop Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal – who is also active in the organization – said that there will be guests from Yuba City, Sacramento, Elk Grove and points across the Bay Area when people gather on Saturday.
And it isn’t just as simple as getting together in the park and enjoying some fellowship and some food.
According to Bhuller, the children who will be participating in the dancing have been training for months and are looking forward to the opportunity to get on stage and in many instances participate in a cultural experience that they’ve never before had the chance to be involved with.
The festival, which is free to the public, is open to the community at large regardless of faith or heritage, and other community church organizations have routinely participated in the past to bridge the gap between the two entities – namely the now-retired Pastor Mike Dillman at the Place of Refuge Church in Manteca.
Building bridges, Bhuller said, is just as important as reminding the children of their respective culture where they came from.
“It’s definitely something that’s available for everybody and there’s a little bit of something there for everybody – there’s culture and food and some vibrant performances,” he said. “It’s important to have events like this that keep things alive and well and although some of these children have never seen or participated in this, they’ll learn and be able to carry the tradition forward.”