September 24th was a hot Saturday for the cusp of fall–a perfect day for enjoying a sweet ‘mango loco’ on a stick sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder. By the early afternoon, Hillandale Park was swarming with people at Harrisonburg’s 19th annual international festival. Put on by the Fairfield Center, whose mission is to “advance dialogue and understanding” among community members, the international festival drew a diverse crowd and reinforced Harrisonburg’s burgeoning identity as a multicultural city.
A Vibrant Event
The vendors and organizations that were involved in this year’s international festival ranged from food vendors to local organizations. Jamaican jerk chicken, Uruguayan chivito sandwiches, Mexican elote, and other international delicacies were all on the menu. Unique sounds from the two stages mixed in the air with the enticing smells of food. Congolese, Syrian, Filipino, and Kurdish dancers and Ukrainian and Eritrean music were featured, as well an international fashion show. Additionally, local organizations with multicultural points of focus, including refugee resettlement, environmental and LGBT activism, and healthcare and educational organizations had booths set up for festival goers to visit.
NewBridges was one of the organizations with a tent at the international festival. We sold a variety of homemade cookies including Mexican wedding cakes, coconut kisses, apricot and walnut rugelach, and peppernuts. Our freshly brewed iced tea made with Nicaraguan hibiscus flowers was also a big hit! A variety of people stopped by to talk with us. Some were drawn by the short line and promise of delicious baked-goods, some were friends of staff, others were curious about volunteering at NewBridges, and still others were potential clients who came seeking information about NewBridges’s services. Over the course of the day, our volunteers and staff got to interact with many lovely people.
A Diverse Crowd
From the vantage point of the NewBridges booth, it was immediately clear that event goers represented a variety of countries, languages, and cultures. There was lots of foot traffic in the area where we were set up because of our proximity to two popular food vendors. After a few hours of observation and interaction with festival goers, something significant about our placement began to stick out. Symbolically, the NewBridges booth was located in a very important place that represented the mission of the organization. We were positioned between Blue Ridge Cider Donuts and El Paisano, a Mexican ice cream company (the same one that sold the ever popular mangoes on a stick), spanning the intersection between Central Americans and other communities that have lived in the Shenandoah Valley for generations. Ultimately, that is our organizational goal: to connect culture and create community. It was encouraging to see that mission represented in person at the international festival.
A Multicultural City
Over the past several decades, Harrisonburg has become increasingly diverse. People from all over the world have come here–some as immigrants, others as refugees–and now call The Friendly City home. The international festival is an event that tangibly demonstrates the impact of these various ethnic communities in this area. Throughout the day, the pride and comfort with which people embodied their various cultures was striking. Despite the social and political tensions that seem to grow increasingly volatile in this country, Harrisonburg’s relatively newfound international identity seems to have evolved gracefully. Events like the international festival are important to unify the various ethnic groups that cohabitate in Harrisonburg. Celebrations of unity, peace, and diversity are increasingly important, as they demonstrate that fear and skepticism should have no place among members of the human race.
NewBridges was proud to be featured as one of the many local organizations that has an impact on the international community in Harrisonburg, and we are grateful for the support we received throughout the day!
About the Author: Lindsay Wright is a 2016 graduate of James Madison University, where she double majored in Communication Studies and Spanish. She is currently completing a nine-month internship at NewBridges, where she is producing content for the blog and getting experience working with clients. In her free time, Lindsay enjoys reading, cooking, and spending time outside in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Contact Lindsay at [email protected]