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Albuquerque’s International Festival Marks Turning Point for the City’s International District

A Guest Post by Anthony Fleg of the Native Health Initiative

More than a day-long celebration of diverse cultural performances, foods and crafts, the 2nd annual Albuquerque International Festival this Saturday (September 18th) represents years of work to revitalize the city’s Southeast Heights.

The Southeast Team for Entrepreneurial Success (STEPS) put together the event at a time when the leaders, businesses, and neighborhood associations of the Southeast Heights are a year into redefining their community as the International District.

The International District is Born

In 2009, both the Albuquerque City Council and the New Mexico State Legislature passed resolutions officially renaming the area as the International District. The district, with residents from six continents speaking 27 languages, hosts the largest Vietnamese and Native American populations in Albuquerque.

Enrique Cardiel, coordinator of the Southeast Heights Health Coalition, is excited to see a focus on the area’s positive aspects.

“Our communities in the International District are some of the most diverse in our city and our state, one of the many strengths of our area that we are looking to build on,” says Cardiel.

Improving Health

From his vantage point, Saturday’s festival is a critical part of the work the coalition is doing to improve the health of the community.

“As a parent who has raised children here I know the name change will change the expectation of kids growing up here. When you live in a neighborhood with a bad name and reputation your expectations get colored by that,” he comments, referring to the many negative labels given to the Southeast Heights in the past.

TThe festival is free and open to all ages, and lasts from 10am to 5pm at the Talin Market (SE Corner of Louisiana and Central Avenue). Organizers expect the event to build on last year’s success, with exciting additions such as the unveiling of STEPS’ food cart initiative to help local chefs start their food cart businesses and to establish a food cart “pod” at the Talin site.

A Total Community Fair

Cynthia Beiser, executive director of STEPS, hopes that the festival will allow residents to learn about businesses, health and social services, and government programs, in addition to allowing these entities to connect with each other. “When we begin to do a better job coordinating our efforts and resources, our community will benefit,” she remarks.

But even though Steve Whitman and his fellow organizers have lofty goals for the festival, he sees the opportunity to create a collective, communal pride in the area is just as important. “For too long, this area of town has not received the positive attention it deserves, and events like this are critical to help community members re-connect and begin to get involved in improving the International District,” says Whitman.

“When we think about a healthy community, it begins with a name, an image that is positive and allows its citizens to feel a sense of pride. Even in these past months, there is a sense of renewal and collective efforts for change,” says Cardiel.

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