Celebrating Diversity at the Columbus International Festival
Perhaps it is not immediately obvious, but Central Ohio is home to a large and diverse international community. For the past 56 years, the area’s multiculturalism has been celebrated with the annual Columbus International Festival where international organizations from around Central Ohio gather to showcase their heritage through food, crafts and dance. Anyone with an interest in becoming involved in the promotion of their own heritage can contact any of these organizations, which always accept new members, or simply patronize the many ethnic stores and restaurants throughout the area, or attend a performance by one of the city’s ethnic dance troupes.
As a recent immigrant and enthusiastic world traveler myself, I had been looking forward to this opportunity to see how much of the world I could explore in Columbus.
The notion of traveling throughout the world was taken quite literally at the festival, at the Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, with free “passports” given to younger visitors, which could be then stamped by representatives of around 80 different countries at their respective booths. Moving from booth to booth really did feel like a whistle-stop trip across the globe. I had my name written for me in Hebrew at the Israeli booth, then in Japanese calligraphy. I checked out colorful Rwandan jewelry made by Rwandan Women in Action, a group made up of survivors of the 1994 genocide and based in Central Ohio; Lithuanian amber from the Lithuanian Community of Columbus, handcrafted artisan Colombian pieces from Gemaco and Ukranian tapestries from the Ukranian Cultural Association of Columbus, then read about Arab contributions to civilization in math, music, literature, medicine and astronomy.
Meanwhile, the main stage was no less exciting. A packed schedule of dancers including El Ritmo Flamenco representing Spain, Silambam Indian dance school and the Jelani Performers doing African-style dance performed all through the afternoon. My favorites were the sensual belly dancers of the All-Ohio Dance Collective and the precocious children from the Russian Club who sang and danced to contemporary Russian hits backed by giant matryoshka dolls.
For me, the way to the heart of a culture is through its food and in this respect the International Festival did not disappoint. I found myself tempted by Somalian plate lunches from Ginevra Cafe on Morse Road, Greek gyros from Medallens in Gahanna and vegetarian Chinese food from the Ching Ter Maitreya Temple on Dublin-Granville Road before settling on a vegetable curry and mango lassi from Hilliard’s Indian-style Taj Palace booth. My sweet tooth was also taken care of by the Scandinavian Club of Columbus that provided æbleskiver, traditional Danish pancakes dusted with powdered sugar and accompanied by fruit jams. Somehow I still managed to find room for a cream puff from Juergen’s German Bakery, which has a permanent home in Columbus’ German Village.
The theme of this year’s event was “Gems of Diversity.” I came away from the festival with a renewed awareness of the variety of this great city and feeling grateful that I can take advantage of it every day. With the great variety of ethnic food on offer we can taste the flavors of the world here in Columbus any time – from Venezuelan arepas at El Arepazo to Thai Pad See Ew at Bangkok Restaurant and Japanese takoyaki from the Fresh Street food cart on North High Street. The International Festival is also just one of a busy schedule of multicultural events that take place all year round throughout the state.