The world coming to St. Paul


Have you ever tried a pocky? Do you know the difference between kimbap and sushi? Do you know how to make a yurt? How about a hardanger? Have you ever wondered what life, entertainment, crafts, music, and food is like on other parts of the planet? Did you know you can find out relatively easily and cheaply?

For more information about the Festival of Nations, see Advance tickets fro the festival are available at International Institute of Minnesota, 1694 Como Ave., St. Paul or by calling (651) 647-0191. View the program for the Festival of Nations here.

“Travel the world without a passport at the 2008 Festival of Nations,” proclaims the Festival of Nations Website. At one of the nation’s largest and longest-running multi-cultural events, visitors can sample food, purchase hand-crafted and exotic merchandise, and observe dance, music, and rituals of 90 other nations and cultures. Events and activities include a Japanese children’s traditional dance, Kontraband Croatian Tamburica Music, a daily unfurling of the U.S. flag by representatives of all 90 nations, and a plethora of weaving, carving, painting, spinning, decorating, as well as dancing, chess, Bocce ball, Kimono displays, and origami demonstrations. Free mini-lessons of the languages of the world will be offered as well.

This year’s festival runs May 1-4 at the St. Paul Rivercenter, 175 W. Kellogg Blvd. Following the example of the Science Museum of Minnesota, Steve Heckler, director of the festival strives to bring in new elements each year, allowing the exhibitors to suggest the theme and then encouraging them to work off that theme.

“Arts and Architecture,” Heckler said, speaking of this years’ theme, “means different things to different cultures.” One participant is bringing a yurt, a shelter from central Asia. Others will display paintings, sculptures, antiques, doors, windows, and many other artifacts.

The festival is a fundraiser for the International Institute of St. Paul, but, according to Heckler, its core purpose is to educate. The festival provides all our populations the opportunity to share of themselves, their cultures, their experiences, and their lives, to help us better know our neighbors.

The Festival was begun in 1932 by the International Institute of Minnesota to draw together people of all ethnicities and backgrounds, “to renew a sense of dignity in our respective ethnic heritage,” the Festival of Nations website says. The goal is not merely to hope for an attitude of tolerance, but to foster a spirit of cooperation, to “build for the future together.” Exhibitors not only represent nations foreign to the U.S. and immigrant populations, but also include Lakota Sioux and African American.

Mark Weaver grew up in Fairborn, Ohio and then embarked on a life journey that has taken him across the U.S. and around the world. He has spent the last ten years teaching linguistics and English as a second language at colleges and universities in Texas, Minnesota, and California. Before that, he worked with a linguistics organization in Ethiopia. He is currently a freelance writer living in Minneapolis.