International Festival celebrates Davis melting pot

International Festival celebrates Davis melting pot

Sitting at a long table between a beret-wearing man signing people up for French lessons and members of the Davis High School German Club offering squares of black forest cake, UC Davis senior psychology and Russian double major and member of the campus Russian Cultural Association Katya Rafanova worked to bring Russia a little bit closer to Davis.

Sitting at a long table between a beret-wearing man signing people up for French lessons and members of the Davis High School German Club offering squares of black forest cake, UC Davis senior psychology and Russian double major and member of the campus Russian Cultural Association Katya Rafanova worked to bring Russia a little bit closer to Davis.

“This is a samovar – it makes tea. Drinking tea is a tradition in Russia,” said Rafanova, pointing to a silver teapot to the sounds of the Folklorico Latino de Woodland dance group performance on the nearby stage. “And here is a list of Russian words. The kids like them – they keep saying ‘thank you’ [in Russian].”

“Unity in Diversity” was the motto of the day at Saturday’s first-ever International Festival, hosted by the International House Davis (I-House) and the UC Davis Office of Campus and Community Relations (OCCR). The festival, held from noon to 6 p.m. at the Davis Veteran’s Memorial Center, was a celebration of not only the I-House’s 30-year anniversary, but also the many cultures that inhabit the world today, said Director of the Culture C.O.-O.P. and I-House board member Sandy Holman.

“The whole focus is, let’s lay some seeds of peace, let’s have the community connections so when problems arise, that’s not the first time we’re seeing each other,” said Holman, who emceed the event along with I-House president Calvin Handy. “And I always feel like it’s nice to come together around fun and education because then when you have challenges, we might have a little bit more patience with each other resolving issues down the road.”

Families, students and community members – many wearing traditional outfits of their country – shopped for art, jewelry and clothing at the Global Marketplace and chose among dozens of local food vendors selling fare from Mexico, Thailand and Columbia, among others. At the Children’s Global Village, kids participated in activities such as face-painting, hula dancing and a discussion about how to host a radio show.

Next to the main stage, which featured dance and musical performances and an international fashion show, representatives from more than 20 countries sat at long tables to answer questions about their culture and offer kids’ activities.

In the Education Room, speakers such as UC Davis Professor Emeritus Desmond Jolly and the Sacramento Bee’s Elaine Corn discussed multiculturalism in the modern world. The Education Room also featured performances by spoken word poets and two film screenings.

The International Festival was born out of a desire to expand upon the I-House’s annual single-country conference, which highlighted just one country each year, said I-House Director Elisabeth Sherwin.

“We decided we wanted to make the event bigger and more inclusive,” said Sherwin, who hopes to make the festival an annual affair. “The International Festival includes everyone and it’s a welcome for all international students.”

Sherwin worked with Handy and Holman to recruit volunteers from UC Davis, Davis High School and the rest of the Davis community to staff the booths, invite performers and country representatives and organize the festivities. The City of Davis donated the Veteran’s Memorial Center, and food vendors paid to attend. Other costs were covered by private donors and the OCCR. Admission to the event itself was free.

For Rahim Reed, associate executive vice chancellor of the OCCR, becoming a major sponsor of the festival was the perfect opportunity to promote positive campus and community relations, while forging a rapport with the growing international student population.

“One of the goals of the chancellor is to increase the number of students on campus by about 5,000 within the next three to five years and the international student population is growing,” Reed said. “We wanted to help build this and make it a major welcoming event.”

Festival volunteers Janette Yang, junior sociology major, and Keerith Singh, junior undeclared major, took a break from the activity with a sushi lunch in front of the Memorial Center. They had been volunteering with the festival since the summer.

“I didn’t expect how all of this would be set up. We’ve been volunteering, so we just did little things,” Yang said, looking back towards the crowds forming outside. “All these people here… it’s great.”

ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at features@theaggie.org.