DALLAS — It's only two square miles, but it's a neighborhood rich in culture, tradition, and language.
All told, residents within the Dallas neighborhood of Vickery Meadows speak more than 40 languages and represent over 30 native countries -- and this diversity was celebrated on Tuesday evening as neighbors came together to celebrate the holiday season from a wide array of cultural perspectives.
“This community has been hit really hard by COVID, which was one of the reasons we wanted to at least do something fun,” said Martha Stowe, executive director of the Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation.
Stowe's organization specifically set out for this Dec. 7 Festival of Lights event to be inclusive of the many religions and traditions represented within this immigrant-heavy community.
“The Vickery Meadows community is full of different cultures, most of them being refugees from all over the world,” Stowe said. “We wanted to unite and honor the many cultures of the Vickery community while spreading holiday cheer.”
Earlier in the day, Stowe joked that she was nervous not many people would attend the event. But just before 4 p.m., a line of cars wrapped around the Vickery Park Branch Library. Then a second line was formed by people who walked to the festival.
By the time 5 p.m. rolled around, more than 1,700 people had checked in to participate in the event, where they could get information on COVID-19 vaccines, dental care, food, and even pick up some gifts in the process.
Teen mentors from the Vickery Meadows library dressed up in various holiday outfits, from sporting the traditional Christmas sweater to full-blown Disney princess regalia.
The night culminated with the illumination of lights strung into the shape of a tree.
For some of these families, this holiday season will be their first in the states. For many others, events like Tuesday's Festival of Lights represent the first opportunity to safely gather with neighbors since the pandemic began in 2020.
Many individuals were apprehensive to speak to WFAA, still growing accustomed to their new life in the U.S., but one Vickery Meadow resident named Almira Pius made sure to express her appreciation for the event Stowe's organization hosted.
“To show gratitude to the people who support this type of event is important to me because it has been a hard year for families, for the kids,” she said in Spanish. “This helps the kids get out and be able to relax.”
The mom of two remembers her first Christmas in the U.S., just before the pandemic.
“To be alone, to start from zero, it’s hard,” Pius said. “I feel like I identify with them [my neighbors].”
The Mexico native arrived in the U.S. three years ago and enthusiastically described making friends with people from Afghanistan, Venezuela, and El Salvador since moving to Vickery Meadows. It is a community that welcomes each other and embraces differences, she said.
“Hearing their stories of the obstacles they overcame, and how they lifted themselves, they inspire me and motivate me to not give up,” Pius said.
Sixth-grader Far Par said taking this kind of spirit beyond Vickery Meadows would help people get along -- everywhere.
Her family moved to the U.S. six years ago from Malaysia. Her parents told WFAA, through Par translating, that they're happy to have found an event like Tuesday's in Vickery Meadows.
“It’s a great way to communicate with other people, and it is fun,” they said.