Culture Revival 101: The Festival of Nations

The Festival of Nations celebrates its 78th year with a centralized theme of folklore and heroes.

A group of Filipino women offer the cameraman traditional food.

A group of Filipino women offer the cameraman traditional food. PHOTO COURTESY ALEKSANDRA TILL

by John Sand

âÄúFestival of NationsâÄù WHERE: Saint Paul River Centre, 175 Kellogg Blvd. W., St. Paul WHEN: April 29 âÄì May 2 General Public hours are: Friday, April 30: 4 p.m. to 10:00 pm Saturday, May 1: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 2: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. TICKETS: Free Fear of losing culture in the melting pot that is America is an age-old tale, but thanks to the efforts of our local community, the Twin Cities strive to accommodate new cultures instead of assimilating them into the land of Big Macs by hosting the annual Festival of Nations. âÄúMany European refugees came over [to America] and lost their culture after maybe four generations,âÄù said Insung Oh , the Korean cultural booth coordinator for this yearâÄôs upcoming Festival of Nations. Kicking off its 78th year, the Festival of Nations is featuring more than 90 cultural groups that present food, dance, art and folklore from a myriad of backgrounds. One of the biggest draws of the festival is the free food, vended in a flea market-like exhibition. Everything from the Kenyan bean and potato dish irio to Hmong hot relish will be available for consumption. Oh said more than 100 volunteers are participating solely in the production of Korean dishes this year, including the usual favorite of Americans, a spiced beef called bulgogi . Aside from a worldly buffet of edibles are selections of art and performance far outside the usual spectrum of prime-time TV. A new performance this year, âÄúOne People, One Sky,âÄù communicates the idea that the sky is something all humans share in common. This production complicates that idea by exploring the diverse folklore of Creation stories. The contrast between culture and nature leads to what the festival has deemed the âÄúEthnic Sky.âÄù The performance is chaired by Jim Rock, a Native American physics professor from the University of Minnesota. Oh said the festivalâÄôs goal is the education of school children. Hoards of middle and high schoolers will come through the festival during the school day Thursday and Friday to experience folklore and foods different from their everyday experience. âÄúIn terms of legacy, this kind of cultural revival should translate for generations,âÄù Oh said. The festival seeks to celebrate cultural expression outside of Western protocols, refusing to globalize culture. Instead of attempting to link all human experience by single universalized concepts of love or freedom, it works to present âÄútraditionâÄù by meeting cultures on their own terms.