Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. All senses were engaged among the many attending the World of Montgomery Festival on October 18 that celebrated Montgomery County’s rich cultural diversity in an International Village teeming with global music, dance, craft-making, chef demonstrations, and food vendors.
The 7th annual family-friendly event inspired multicultural appreciation and understanding by spotlighting the cultures of China, El Salvador, Ethiopia, and India, which are the four largest immigrant populations in Montgomery County. All four nations have established Sisters City relationships with the County.
Montgomery County has become a majority minority community and one of the most culturally diverse in the nation. Today, one-third of its residents were not born in the United States. And, among the 156,000 students enrolled in its public schools, 138 distinct languages from 157 countries are spoken at home.
At the festival’s International Village, children and adults experienced these leading cultures by participating in a wide variety of hands-on activities, including traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, dancing with a Chinese dragon, henna art painting, and craft-making. The scents of spices enveloped festival goers as they explored the Global Spice Market, watched international chefs prepare regional dishes in the Global Kitchen, and tried their own hand at making tortillas, rice balls and roti.
KID Museum previewed its upcoming Mask Exhibit with several cultural mask-oriented activities. Children and adults created their own molded masks using clay and a vacuum-molder, and helped construct three giant communal masks. Others tried on masks from different regions of the world and took photos in KID Museum’s photo booth installation, “Unmasking the Self(ie): Masks, Culture & Identity.” Read about the Festival on the KID Museum blog.
Keeping the crowd moving to music throughout the day were four headliner acts, Latin beat sensation Verny Varela, global music folk legend Robbie Schaefer, the hot 13-piece Salsa and Merangue band Pablo Antonio y La Firma, and The Crawdaddies’ own brand of Cajun, Zydeco and Reggae.
The two performance stages also spotlighted dancers and musicians from the featured four countries, including Chinese mask theatre, an Ethiopian drumming and dance group, Indian dancers performing a harvest celebration, and an El Salvadoran marching band.
A centerpiece of the day was the Parade of Cultures led by the feet pounding rhythms of traditional African drummers, Latin American dancers, and Asian performers in native dress who encircled the festival grounds. The parade ended at the main stage where government officials joined festival sponsors to reinforce the need for multicultural understanding to make Montgomery County the most welcoming community in the country.
Participants included Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard, County Executive Ike Leggett, County Council President George Leventhal, State Senator Cheryl Kagan, Delegate Aruna Miller, Christina Poy of Maryland Governor Hogan’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs and the Commission on South Asian American Affairs, diplomatic representatives from China, El Salvador, Ethiopia, and China, FREE-Syria Co-founder and Director Rafif Jouejati, former Members of Congress from Montgomery County Michael D. Barnes (D) and Connie Morella (R), and several festival sponsors – Keith Haller of Fund for Montgomery, Cara Lesser of KID Museum and Andrew Russell of Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union.
“Montgomery County is a modern-day global village where we see everyday that our diversity is our strength,” said G. Keith Haller, Chairman of the Fund For Montgomery. “This multicultural celebration gives children and adults alike an appreciation for the rich, diverse world that is in our own backyard. It’s about inspiring a new generation of ‘global ambassadors’ who can make ours the most welcoming community in the country.”