Campus gathers to celebrate the union of a prolific range of cultures, juxtaposing tense nature of the week’s events
A vast number of nations and cultures consolidated to host the University’s most dynamic yearly event in the Barnhardt Student Activity Center (SAC) Sept. 24. In the light of the cultural divide brought about by this week’s incidents, the festival provided a positive outlet from the city’s turbulence that inspired unity amongst the community and cultural appreciation.
The event began at 10 a.m. and continued until 6 p.m., giving students and the surrounding Charlotte community time to appreciate an array of activities, music, art and food with no admission fee. Many cultures were able to embrace and celebrate their identity by contributing to the event.
The festival is arranged with many booths, each representing their own country, aligned in a circular fashion around the Arena Floor of the SAC. This extends outside of the SAC as well, where there are more booths and outdoor games for attendants of all ages and interests.
Each of the booths are run by both student and community volunteers that display staple components of their heritage, including costumes, food, face-painting, ceramics and other cultural merchandise.
“The positive energy that comes from all the people being around each other is what brings us back every year and work to make it a great day,” said Emina Smailagie, a long time volunteer of the Bosnia booth from the Charlotte community.
Many of the booths even played music, bringing more vitality and dimension in addition to the object-oriented parts of the culture. Both the inside and outside stages had bands that play live music for attendants while they browse the festival. The types of live music ranged from Caribbean and Latin to African and Celtic.
The festival is aligned around the Arena Floor as the focal point, where each country’s individualism is showcased through the Parade of Nations and the Festivals of Music and Dance. Dance is seen as one of the many vital artistic mediums through which people of different regions express their culture and values, making the dance performances on the Arena Floor a notably popular exhibit every year.
“Dance is a great part of the festival … diversity and culture is a part of everybody who lives in a big city. Everyone wants to know about other cultures and the festival is a big success because of that,” said Masoud Sobhani, a graduate student at UNC Charlotte and a volunteer at the Iran booth.
Kate Poisson, coordinator of the International Festival, spoke of why the 41 year hosting the event is particularly special.
“We are working with the city of Charlotte as part of an initiative called Charlotte Welcoming Week, which is both a citywide and nationwide organization that is trying to make cities more welcoming to immigrants and refugees from around the world. We’re thrilled that this year’s international festival is the capstone event for that,” said Poisson.
Poisson also mentioned that there were over 60 countries represented this year, an increase from the typical range of 50 countries that are typically displayed at the festival. The immense growth of the festival every year represents the abundant diversity not only within the University, but the entire Charlotte community as well.
“The unification of diverse people is what makes the festival so special. All of us are the same. We may have different looks, different skin types, but at the end of the day we enjoy the same aspects of life,” said UNC Charlotte alumni Fred Absaloms, attendant of the Tanzania booth.
Photos by Natasha Morehouse, Pooja Pasupula and Austin Chaney.