The Festival of Nations hits the Twin Cities once more this May, taking residence at the Saint Paul RiverCentre during May 1-4. As has happened since its beginnings here in the Twin Cities in 1932, the event is presented through The International Institute of Minnesota. The theme this year is “Peace Among the People” with the official poster the work of local designer Aleksandra Stancevic Till.
As in previous years a multitude of ethnicities and nationalities are on show, represented through cultural exhibits, traditional dancing and, of course, via saliva-inducing food available in the bazaars. This time round 39 different ethnic groups and nationalities will be on display, with the event organizers recognizing ethnic identity as a means of representation, in addition to official UN nation state status. Consequently, groups such as the Karen, Hmong and Oromo will be among those on show at The RiverCentre.
Given this writer’s own perspective, having arrived in the Twin Cities from England just over two and a half years ago, and whose first festival was in 2012, the fascination was in discovering just how closely those Americans of European lineage had adhered to the cultures of their forebears. Some, incredibly, had preserved customs, rituals and traditions in a near cryogenic manner. The Magyars – the ethnic term for Hungarians, together with Finns and Serbs, among many others, demonstrated the deep cultural heritage of ancient, tribal Europe. Through the festival, the visitor will discover Europe’s rich history, its tribal divisions and, touchingly given ongoing events in the east of the old continent, its essential interconnectness through language, food and dress.
Looking beyond Europe, an increasingly heterogeneous Twin Cities will be represented at the festival through such diverse peoples as the Indians, the Sudanese and through the towns’ burgeoning Guatemalan community. Browsing the attractions of these Asian, African and Central American groups the festival goer will be able to get a glimpse of the wider cosmopolitanism of the Twin Cities, and a peek into the emerging makeup of the cities in the future. Seen in this light, the Festival of Nations represents the past, present and future of the Twin Cities, where demographic forecasts anticipate a significantly different ethnic landscape by mid-century. Accordingly, a 2012 report published by the Metropolitan Council projected that the population of people of color in the 25-64 age cohort will more than double by 2040, while that of whites in the same cohort will shrink by 21%.
In addition to cultural and culinary exhibits and, of course, the traditional dance performances from the participant groups, there are events specifically targeted at fostering commonalities and enriching the broader sense of community among all groups. Examples of these are The World Peace Prayer Society and The New American Experience. Incorporated into the latter, Green Card Voices will digitally showcase different immigrant stories from a selection of Twin Cities residents born abroad.
With admission information available on the festival website, where prices range from $8, the Festival of Nations should prove, once more, both a celebration and smorgasbord of the Twin Cities ethnic and cultural mix. If you plan on going, enjoy it: you might just learn a bit more about yourself and your relationship with those around you. From which ever part of the globe you or your ancestors hail from, you might be surprised to discover you share a common cultural wellspring with someone you never imagined.