Unity Picnic finds many with appetite for friendship, food

August 26, 1991|By Peter Hermann

The picnic tables were lined with the obscure and the fanciful, from sushi to fried squid, from American Indian applesauce made from sun-softened apples to tomatoes dressed in marigold petals.

So, the hungry folks at the Unity Picnic at Druid Hill Park gathered 'round yesterday afternoon, piling their plates from a cultural smorgasbord that drew nearly 60 families of different backgrounds.

Shyam and Geetha Sunder, natives of southern India, made a rare journey into the city from their home in Reisterstown.

"I'm scared to drive into the city," said Mr. Sunder, a chemist who does genetic research. "I get lost. But I wanted to get to know other cultures and be a part of the community."

While the picnic attracted more than 100 people, most of those who attended were community leaders. Some pointed to the current strife between Hasidic Jews and blacks in New York as evidence of the need for increased understanding.

"There is no better way to share cultures than with food," said Tim Duke, a board member of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, one of the event's sponsors. "It sort of breaks the ice."

Inwook Huh already is involved in Baltimore life. He is the bureau chief for the Korean Times, a Korean-language newspaper in the United States.

A welcome day off brought him and his contributions, a pickled cabbage dish called kim chi, spicy crabs and fried squid, to the park. "Baltimore is a unique city," he said. "You have a lot of ethnic groups here. We have to understand each other."

Ken Strong, chief of community services for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, agreed. "It is always important to create these kinds of experiences," he said. "We may have laws that outlaw segregation, but in social circles we are still too segregated."

Mr. Strong said he hoped that yesterday's event would serve as a model for a larger gathering next year, one "that will involve people who are not as inclined to attend as this group is."

Not everyone celebrated diversity with food, however. "I cheated," said Jeffrey Floyd, a member of the Baltimore Institute for the Healing of Racism, casting a sheepish glance at the Kentucky Fried Chicken he brought.

His donation may have been store-bought, but his feelings about the unity rally were from the heart.

"A lot of racism comes from a lack of knowledge," he said. "We come up with all these strange ideas. A little thing like this is a way to try and fix that problem."

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