Annual International Festival brings community together

Christine Dimeo

Along the avenue of booths filled with food, knickknacks and traditional wares, the bright colors of delicate fabrics radiated from Emina’s Boutique.

Standing in aviator shades and a hot-pink top within her fortress of bold scarves, hats and dresses on Saturday was a woman who is no stranger to style.

Emina Hotilovac, owner of Emina’s Boutique, highlighted her passion for fashion design at Bowling Green’s annual International Festival.

“This is the only store in Bowling Green that carries different cultures’ modern wear,” Hotilovac said.

Self-described as carrying “Hijab Style & Fashion,” Emina’s Boutique brings a taste of her home country of Bosnia with everything from hijabs to decorative caps to unique dresses, all made and imported from Turkey.

Hotilovac came to the United States in 1994 as a refugee of war, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in fashion at WKU and opening up her shop.

“I always liked fashion,” she said. “But I wanted to do something different here in town and give back to the community.”

She said in Bosnia, a store like hers would have been common, but in Kentucky, it is a unique way to bring her culture to others.

Hotilovac was not the only one sharing her heritage with the Bowling Green community at the International Festival Saturday.

From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Circus Square Park pulsed with noise and activity as local residents cooked up traditional foods, put on performances and sold goods, all to teach others about their backgrounds and history. Three stages were set up for performances and booths representing each country lined the walkways of the park.

Those manning the booths came from all walks of life.

Some, like Jiyeon Park, presented their country through WKU. Park and the others working the South Korea booth sold popular Korean accessories and taught visitors helpful Korean phrases.

Others in the Festival were like Hotilovac and fled the countries they represented to seek safety in the United States. Manita, a refugee from Nepal, talked about her country and helped to give out henna tattoos at the Nepalese/Bhutanese booth.

Manita said she feels that the International Festival is important to her because it helps refugees like her to know about and be more involved in the community, and it helps others to learn more about her and her culture.

Additionally, live performances were put on throughout the day, from Spanish Flamenco dancing, to Bosnian pop music, to a mix of Irish folk tunes by the Celtic fusion band Def Leprechaun.

No matter the background or talents of participants in the Festival, everyone had something to contribute.

For Hotilovac, her love for fashion helped her to give others a little glimpse into her own life and passions. As she helped customers find the best product for them, she demonstrated how to put on a hijab, explained the purposes of various dresses and displayed the most popular ways of wearing her headscarves.

Park, an Allex program scholar and teaching assistant of Korean at WKU, said the International Festival provides a way to learn and understand various cultures.

“Bowling Green is a small city, but there are many different groups,” Park said. “It’s good to understand each other.”