International Festival shows off diversity

Jocelyn Robinson

Downtown Bowling Green was transformed into something resembling a Middle Eastern street bazaar for one afternoon.

The air was filled with the smell of barbecued meat, fried rice and fried tortillas. The sounds of bluegrass blended with reggae and traditional Jewish singing as musicians performed their songs.

The International Festival held Saturday in Fountain Square Park featured authentic music, food and dance from around the world.

One man, who identified himself as Freedom, came from Huntsville, Ala., to sell African beads and jewelry.

“I had a feeling,” he said. “Something told me to come bring some culture today.”

Crowds of people walked through the park, looking at displays from groups like the Bosnian Club, the Beth Sar Shalom Messianic Jewish

Congregation and the Turkish Club.

“I came to dance and enjoy good food and to be around people from different cultures,” said Bisera Handzic, a graduate student from Bosnia. “It’s wonderful.”

Ilge Yazgan, a graduate student from Turkey, showed brochures about her country and handed out Turkish flag stickers to visiting children.

“We met a lot of people,” she said. “It was nice.”

Many families came to the festival, giving their children an opportunity to learn about different cultures.

Children wandered through the crowd, some drinking non-alcoholic pi?a coladas and Bahama mamas out of coconuts and others wearing flower wreaths on their heads. Groups of giggling kids ran from booth to booth collecting flag stickers, either putting them directly into their passport books or sticking them wherever they could on their clothes.

Dallisa Haas of Bowling Green, brought her three young children to the festival.

“(The kids) got to learn about other cultures rather than just normal American things,” she said.

Vendors had a nice view of the action going on during the festival. Freedom said he was able to watch a number of the performances on the stage from his booth.

“There were kids, adults, there were old folks kickin’ it here,” he said. “It was a beautiful thing.”

One popular performance was by Au’s Shaolin Arts Kung Fu Academy of Bowling Green. The group performed the lion dance and demonstrations of Chinese Kung Fu.

The lion dance is a classical Chinese dance of good luck, said Master Tom Pardue, an instructor at the academy.

The presentation also included a demonstration of Chi Kung by Master Seng Jeorng Au, the chief instructor of Au’s Shaolin Arts society. Chi Kung is a form of meditation taught to Buddhist monks to help them meditate longer.

“Meditation is listening to God, as opposed to prayer, which is talking to God,” he said. “We need to spend more time listening.”

As evening fell, a few people headed to the street dance. As dance music played, the vendors began packing their merchandise and taking down their tents.

Freedom enjoyed the festival so much he’s planning on coming back next year.

“It was beautiful to see so many cultural backgrounds at one time in harmony,” he said. “It broke down walls for some people. Now they’re knowing there’s no difference between us.”

Jocelyn Robinson can be reached at [email protected]