A parking lot in the Birchwood neighborhood was transformed Friday night into a vibrant market, where performers danced and played music, vendors sold art, jewelry and clothing, and local community and activist organizations tabled on issues affecting residents.
The Birchwood International Market, which has been running since 2018, connects neighbors and celebrate the diversity of the Birchwood neighborhood, market organizer Morgan Henry Kerr said.
“Having the market in the parking lot was literally to activate and bring life to what is the center of Birchwood neighborhood, and bring people together to celebrate Birchwood’s … cultural diversity, and really … Whatcom County’s very rich cultural diversity in general,” Kerr said.
Visitors toss rings at Sam Martinez, left, and Nashly Portillo, trying to land them on the cones on their heads. El Arca, a local youth ministry group, hosted a booth with games and prizes to share with the local community about their organization. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
The market will be held two more times this season, on July 15 and Aug. 19. This summer will be the market's first full schedule since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Several participants said the sense of community was a big part of what attracted them to the market.
TJ Singh, director of the Chardi Kala Project, said the community and cultural diversity highlighted at the market drew the organization to table there. The Chardi Kala Project advocates for the Sikh community in Whatcom County by tackling “hate crimes against Sikhs, and others, via education,” according to the Project’s website.
“We are Sikhs, we are Punjab, we are immigrants here, so it’s just to bring all the communities together,” Singh said. “We are telling other communities about us, what we are. We are their neighbors.”
The first performance of the night featured young people from the Sikh community, who danced to lively Punjabi music at the front of the market.
Around two dozen members of the Sikh community danced and sparred to Punjabi music during the market. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
Joelle Brooke, who tabled for Bellingham Makerspace, also said the feeling of the community drew them to the market.
“We’re an avid community centered around the things that we love and the love of building. We love to get that out to anybody,” they said.
Kerr said fostering these connections is what makes the market so valuable.
“How many people know their neighbor, know the person across the fence or interact with people who aren’t like them?” she said. “The market is just this creative safe container to play, to have fun for fun’s sake, to connect in an authentic way.”
More than a hundred people and a dozen vendors popped up at the Birchwood International Market for food, games and performances. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
Kerr said community spaces like the Birchwood market are also important for mental health, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The market also provides a space for local activist organizations to spread information on issues affecting Birchwood. Among these organizations were the Birchwood Food Desert Fighters and Community to Community Development.
The Birchwood Food Desert Fighters combat food insecurity and increase access to groceries after the neighborhood’s main grocery store, Albertsons, shut down, according to organizer Tina McKim. The group has been a part of the market “since the beginning,” McKim said.
Community to Community Development is a farmworker-led organization that fights for “workers' justice, immigrant justice, food sovereignty and also participatory democracy,” member Australia Tobon said. The market is an opportunity to advance public awareness of their organization.
“It’s personal for us because we live in these neighborhoods,” Tobon said. “Getting to know [the community] is really great.”
The International Capoeira Angola Foundation performs a mixture of dance and martial art deriving from the struggle of enslaved Africans. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)