Harrisonburg Again Celebrates Its International Communities

Sep 30, 2019

Aztec Dancers perform at the Harrisonburg International Festival.
Credit Calvin Pynn

Harrisonburg’s International Festival brought thousands of visitors downtown on Saturday.  For the 22nd year, the festival celebrated dozens of different cultures and languages. WMRA’s Calvin Pynn was there.

Those who arrived early at the Harrisonburg International Festival were greeted with the sight of tall, colorful feather headdresses, the aroma of burning copal resin, and the sounds of drums and conches. 

[Sound of Ollinpapalotl Mexika Dance Group]   

This is the Ollinpapalotl Mexika Dance Group, who performs the ancient Aztec ritual dance which traditionally kicks off the day’s events at the International Festival. They were the first of many performances on the stage behind Asbury United Methodist Church, before making their way to the other side of downtown to perform the dance again later at Court Square.   

After they finished, other performers took to the stage. Those included dancers from the Filipino-American Community…

[sound of Filipino-American dancers] 

…and Russian folk music from the Beltway Balalaikas. 

[sound of Russian folk music] 

This was the twenty-second year for the Harrisonburg International Festival, but only the second year it has been hosted downtown after being held in Hillandale Park since 1997. An estimated 9,000 people attended the last International Festival held at Hillandale in 2017 and moving it downtown has accommodated the growing number of attendees.     

Elizabeth Adjei sells clothing and jewelry at the Harrisonburg International Festival.

ELIZABETH ADJEI: I love the park, but sometimes when we’d go off to the park, and downtown gets too quiet, but today and last year also, downtown is so getting busy [sic], so it’s cool.   

That’s Elizabeth Adjei, who relocated to Harrisonburg from Ghana 15 years ago, and has been a vendor at the festival every year since, selling clothing and jewelry. This year Adjei set up shop at the “Browse the World Bazaar” in the parking lot next to Jess’ Lunch, and as she has done every year, will send the money earned at the festival back to Ghana.   

ADJEI: Anything I sell today, Monday I will be sending that money back to them - all from kids in vocation schools, and the artists also.   

Food vendors represented a wide range of cultures and cuisines. Syrian kebabs could be sampled in the Turner Pavilion lot while Central American pupusas could be found closer to Court Square, among many others. Hidden between all those options, though, was a potluck held in the Filipino-American Community for the Shenandoah Valley’s tent. Anyone who found themselves in that tent were handed a plate, and invited to dig in.  

[sound of Filipino potluck]  

TERESA CORTES: This is gourd, if you like vegetable. You know what’s a gourd, right? [sic]  

CALVIN PYNN: Oh, gourd! Like squash?  

CORTES: Like squash! Except this is the Asian one. 

The festival was headlined – as tradition goes – with a demonstration from the Harrisonburg Kurdish Community. Lukeman Rostem is one of their representatives.  

Lukeman Rostem represents the Kurdish community at the Harrisonburg International Festival.
Credit Calvin Pynn

LUKEMAN ROSTEM: We’ve got all kinds of traditional cultures in Harrisonburg, and we like people to see where we’re from and what we have.  

For the Kurdish Community, that included displays of traditional items including a tea maker and a photo-printed and lambskin drum. 

ROSTEM: I’m not a musician, I don’t know how to play, but… 

[sound of Rostem beating drum crossfading into sound of Kurdish Dance of Joy] 

The Kurdish Dance of Joy ended the day’s festivities, drawing in festival goers and members representing every culture – all dancing together to an energetic beat for the International Festival’s final 45 minutes. 

[sound of Kurdish Dance of Joy]