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Park party brings community closer

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Salt Lakers with diverse backgrounds mingled amid the sounds of drum beats, melodic Tongan choir music, the crack of a bat against pinatas and the smell of roasted hot dogs in a west-side Salt Lake park Tuesday evening.

It was the first of what city leaders hope will be many "Celebrate Community" (emphasis on unity) festivals. Jordan Park, 1060 W. 900 South, served as digs for Tuesday's party but Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson's plan is to move the event from park to park around the city.

"I think we have every type of ethnic origin represented here," Anderson said. "This is really what it's all about when we talk about building community. . . . Most of all we're having fun and getting to know each other."

Plans for the picnic were made public after Glendale Community Council chairman Jay Ingleby made comments about too much "Spanish stuff" on the city's west side. A few weeks later an embattled Ingleby, who was roundly criticized by Latino leaders and Anderson, resigned.

"If we begin to meet with each other and begin to know each other, we can get rid of the hatred," said Archie Archuleta, the mayor's administrative assistant for minority and community affairs. "It's not so much hatred as it is not knowing each other."

While the atmosphere was generally positive Tuesday, a few individuals handed out fliers criticizing Anderson for holding such a festival at taxpayer expense. The mayor publicly rebuked the fliers and noted all the food had been donated by trendy east-side businesses, making the picnic the sort of rare event that bridged the oft-perceived gap between Salt Lake's east and west sides.

Gastronomy, parent company to posh east-side restaurants such as Baci Trattoria, The New Yorker and Market Street Grill, contributed food and chefs, who switched from searing swordfish and filet mignon to cooking up hot dogs, cole slaw and macaroni salad. Other east-side businesses, such as Liberty Heights Fresh market and Cactus and Tropicals, donated time and supplies.

The evening provided a togetherness and inclusiveness that keeps Anderson popular with west-siders who feel chided by seemingly snobby east-side folk.

Anderson loves the little people, really wants to help them and keeps them in mind, said Afe U. Langi, chairman of the board for Tongan Outreach.

Other government officials joined Anderson mingling with the crowd. City Council members distributed fliers and books containing phone numbers to government offices. Frank Cordova of the Salt Lake County Voter Registration Educational Project patrolled the park searching for unregistered west-siders.

Overall, the festival seemed like an outstanding success as some 700 to 1,000 people packed the park pavilion. Firefighters swatted volleyballs with little kids while other children drew murals on butcher paper.

"We want to keep moving it around," Anderson said of the festival. "Even if it's not in your neighborhood, please come out, 'cause that's what it's all about."

E-MAIL: bsnyder@desnews.com