Seventy-two years ago, One World Day’s founders had an idea about what would bring us peace: a shared understanding of each other’s culture. The Aug. 27 festival celebrates Cleveland’s nationalities gathering in a place where their heritage is rooted — the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. Thousands of community members and garden delegates unite with a Parade of Flags, naturalization ceremony, ethnic foods, and traditional singing and dancing. The 30 cultural gardens strung along Doan Brook in Rockefeller Park whisper their own immigration stories. “These gardens are unity in the world,” says Sheila Murphy Crawford, chairwoman of the 72nd One World Day. “That makes this day very special.”
For years, Gary Kotlarsic, 51, carried the flag and led the Polish delegation in the Parade of Flags, which kicks off the festival. His great-grandparents and wife Agniecszka emigrated from Poland. The couple is raising two children in Cleveland’s Slavic Village. Four years ago, Kotlarsic passed the flag to his 13-year-old son, Gustav. As one of the parade’s youngest flag bearers, Gustav tells us what it means to represent his family’s homeland.
I walk with my mom and my younger sister. My mom is a choreographer with Piast, the Polish dance group. When there’s no wind, I kind of wave [the flag] around, so everyone can see the colors. It feels respectful. It honors our heritage, our culture. It’s nice to see all the people smiling when you’re walking down the street. There’s all the different cultures from all the different gardens. They all have their own flags. It’s really nice to see that today, when there’s so much hate.
My whole life I’ve been traveling to Poland and back. Poland is part of who we are. Polka originated in Poland, so Poland has given a lot to Cleveland.