In 1975, UNC Charlotte wanted to announce its Office of International Programs. So it created an international festival and drew groups from 15 countries, a German beer garden, French wine even an Italian Ferrari, displayed on the hillside below the library.
It was initiated as a one-time event, as sort of a public announcement about our office, with an emphasis in celebrating the diversity of countries and cultures that are here at UNCC and the larger community, explains Marian Beane, senior coordinator of International Engagement at UNCC.
That first festival was such a success that, 38 years later, its still going strong. This year, Saturdays International Festival features groups from 60 countries, 18 dance performances, and food from nearly half of the countries represented.
As the university student ethnic community has grown and the citys ethnic communities have increased, the festival has grown likewise, says Beane, who estimates last years festival drew around 20,000 people.
The free festival focuses on family-friendly activities and seeks to educate adults and children about the world around them. Kids can pick up a passport, for instance, and get a stamp at each countrys booth that they visit. Theres also face painting, games and an Earth balloon that kids can step inside to view the globe from within.
Live music will include Scottish bagpipes, Caribbean steel drums and Andean, Irish and Latin acts. Look for magic shows, strolling musicians and a Parade of Nations, featuring traditional costumes and dress.
We have over 90 different countries represented at UNC Charlotte. About half (of the participating festival groups) are student groups, says Beane, and Chinese, Indian and Saudi Arabian students make up the largest portion of UNCCs international student body. Mongolia, Serbia and Burkina Faso will be represented at the festival for the first time this year.
Crowd-drawing cuisine includes pastries from Bosnia, Armenia and Greece and meat dishes such as Hmong sausages, spicy chicken from Congo and Korean bulgogi (marinated, grilled beef), in addition to the more familiar Italian, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese and Mexican fare.
Every year has been a wonderful celebration, Beane reflects. I get all choked up about it, seeing all the different countries and peoples pride. So many are focused on living the American life, but we want to say, This is how important your countries and culture are.
Several other community ethnic festivals have sprouted up in the meantime, says Beane. She hopes the willingness to embrace diverse cultures extends to the community year-round.
Its about getting in touch with each other and having conversations, appreciating the beauty of various countries, she says. Its not the end-all. We hope it goes beyond just this one day.
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