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Race, Politics and Fireworks in Hyattsville

After weeks of debate, the Hyattsville City Council approved the scheduling for Handmade on Hamilton, the reborn International Street Festival.

The Hyattsville City Council unanimously voted to schedule Handmade on Hamilton, a reborn, rescheduled version of on Hamilton Street near Queens Chapel Road. 

But not before weeks of debate which touched on race, politics and fireworks. 

After running for 15 years, due to administrative issues, said Abby Sandel, acting director for the Department of Recreation and Arts.

Last month, Sandel presented a plan for an International Festival reborn as Handmade on Hamilton: An International Celebration of Craft, Food and Music to the City Council to seek their approval for scheduling. The event will try to highlight artisans from across globe-spanning cultures, according to Sandel. 

However that plan did not include fireworks. What did include fireworks, for the first time in recent memory, in April. This led and Ward Four Councilor Carlos Lizanne to protest, saying that the lack of fireworks was a slight to the minority residents who looked forward to the festival each year.

Mofor was one of the prominent voices on City Council advocating for an expanded version of Handmade on Hamilton with The event takes place in her ward.

In explaining her position, Mofor described a time at a Hyattsville church service when fellow congregants refused to greet her because of her race. Mofor's position was also informed by sectional and ethnic hostility among neighbors which she encountered on when campaigning for her seat.

"When I went out on the campaign trail, asking people what I could do for them, it was 'I want them out of the neighborhood'," said Mofor. "The only solution to this ignorance is education, the reason we have this festival is so that we can educate people about the people around them."

Mofor also tangled with issues of class and privilege, saying that the International Festival was an important part of the calendar year for the predominantly minority populations which make up the Hamilton Street corridor near the West Hyattsville Metro Station. 

It is an area home to the

"These things seem small in the bigger picture," said Mofor. "But when you live in the area, it matters on a different level. So when I see there's no fireworks and I make a big deal, it matters to these children and to these adults because we don't get much excitement on that side."

Sandel said that the Parks and Recreation Department has no intention of watering down the international aspects of the festival, but felt that the event had grown stale over the years and was in need of a rebranding. 

was against fireworks, saying that it caused dangerous rubbernecking on Ager Road. She also criticized the cost of adding fireworks to the Handmade on Hamilton event. 

"I'm looking at the budget, and we're not even spending that much on the parade," said Perry,

said that she was committed to making sure that the international aspect of the festival is preserved in the Handmade on Hamilton event. 

"It pained me when I heard charges of racism either spoken out loud or under the surface of people's comments because that's the last thing in the world that occurred to me," said Warner. "I think we need to be sensitive to the fact that this isn't being taken over and transformed, but that we are growing the festival."

was puzzled by what he called a "false dichotomy" which began to frame the debate over Handmade on Hamilton where those in favor of the festival revisions felt as if they were being accused of watering down the international aspect of the event.

McKnight listed a handful of multicultural elements planned for Handmade on Hamilton event, including a Chinese dragon dance troupe and an traditional African storyteller. 

McKnight did say that a grand finale was needed for the festival. But, recalling an acrobatic festival showpiece he saw while on vacation once in Mexico, McKnight said the appropriate finale for Handmade on Hamilton may not be fireworks.

Ward Five Councilor Ruth Ann Frazier said the festival could be a premier event, if marketed and executed properly. 

"Promote it. Promote it to death," said Frazier. "Make it worthwhile."

Handmade on Hamilton is now scheduled for Nov. 3, 2012. Sandel said that staff will be adding a budget request for fireworks to the proposal for the City Council to approve during upcoming budget negotiations. 

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