Billings Mayor Bill Cole predicted that the Billings Depot would sound like the Tower of Babel Friday night. And he was right.
Around 25 different languages and cultures were represented at the first Mayor’s World Languages Dinner, which drew a sell-out crowd.
It was Cole’s idea to hold the event in what he calls the most multi-cultural city in Montana.
“I just have a lot of conversations with people and I started to notice that we have so many people in Billings who were from a different country or spoke a different language. I thought, let’s get them all together because I don’t think they know each other. And it has been absolutely a thrilling response,” Cole said.
Along with showcasing the ethnic and linguistic diversity of Montana’s largest city, the idea was also to connect folks with their neighbors.
“I think there is a lot of things that we can learn from each other, and there’s a lot of connections that will make our community better just bringing awareness by having this event is key to the growth of this city,” says Ignacio Barron Viela, who grew up in Spain, and is the executive director for the Billings Symphony.
“To come to such an event and see the diversity of all individuals here in Billings and see all the languages and cultures represented, I think it is just incredible,” said Sep Eskandan, who recently took over as the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at MSU Billings. His family moved to the United States from Iran in 1984.
The event also celebrated the Native people and languages that were here long before anyone else settled in the area.
“It helps us to kind of rediscover our roots and to share, but I think the most important thing is to build that relationship with our brothers and sisters from around the world,” said Bill Snell, who represented the Crow and Assinboine languages.
While this was the first Mayor’s World Languages Dinner, it likely won’t be the last. Cole says planning has already begun for a similar event next year—perhaps at a larger venue.