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Weather-friendly New Year comes in with a splash

Instead of risking hypothermia in April, Buffalo’s Burmese community waits until it is shorts-and-sandals weather to get wet.

Hundreds of people attended the annual Buffalo Myanmar Water Festival on Saturday, celebrating the Burmese New Year, which occurred in mid-April. In Burmese culture, water is sacred. On a day-to-day basis, it sustains life; on their New Year, it is a tool used to wash away the year's sins.

Many visitors were walking back and forth between the water festival and the Taste of Diversity festival, also being held Saturday on Grant Street between Auburn and West Ferry streets.

The 15th Annual Taste of Diversity Festival, a staple in the West Side community, highlights the cultures within the neighborhood. The wind posed an issue for some vendors, one whose tent began to lean, another whose aluminum pans attempted to topple over, but vendors took it in stride, chatting with customers and explaining the origins behind their dishes.

In the spirit of the day, some cooks featured fusion foods, marrying two cultures in one dish. Among the most popular was a jerk chicken pastelito, Jamaican spices and a Latino pastry in one.

In the background of the festival music could be heard from the stage. Performances included an Indian dance group, a solo vocalist and a jazz band.

Attendees were greeted at the water festival entrance with a stage with live music and traditional dance performances. Free food and beverages included rice, salad, chicken, watermelon and ice cream. But what drew people in, and got a few to speed-walk out, was the water splash area.

Two 3-foot-deep buckets and a small kayak-like boat filled with water were at the ready for people to replenish their water guns and buckets. In the middle were four linked hoses connected to a nearby fire hydrant.

Soe Phyo, who is going into ninth grade, said her weapon of choice is the hose.

“You can do the most damage with it,” she said with a mischievous smile.

Kids chased each other, relentlessly using their water guns to spray their already-doused playmates. Adults surrounded the elevated boat, splashing each other with their hands.

Around 2 p.m., a group of men placed a speaker near the splash area and proceeded to dance, waving their hands to the beat.

Spectators mostly stood around the perimeter; some didn’t mind the splashes, others were determined not to get wet — especially the bridal court that tried to sneak by on the sidewalk.

Although Buffalo celebrates the Myanmar New Year in June, it was April 13-16 this year.

“You’d have to be mad to throw water on someone in April,” said Ba Zan Lin, lead organizer of the water festival, referring to Buffalo’s extended winter weather.

The last week of June is usually the first week warm enough for the festival, he said.

Ba Zan Lin said they have been celebrating in Buffalo since 2006 when he first arrived, and this is the fifth year it was done on a large scale. This year’s theme was “Unity Through Water.”

Since its beginnings, the festival has been open to all. It’s a way for the Burmese community in Buffalo to promote cultural exchange.

Over his 11 years in Buffalo, Lin has seen awareness steadily increase of Burmese culture, which includes 135 ethnic groups.

Anna Ireland, a Buffalo resident, has attended since the beginning and said she has enjoyed seeing the event grow. She looks forward to the festival every year.

“Through our culture we create unity with the local people,” Ba Zan Lin said. “That way, they can learn more about us while we learn more about them.”

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