Hundreds of students, community members and visitors gathered at the Tate Center Promenade on Saturday to celebrate the in-person return of the International Street Festival. The festival highlights the cultural diversity that exists within the University of Georgia and the Athens community at large.
Thrown by the Department of International Student Life, the event featured everything from a performance by the Kenya Safari Acrobats to authentic South American cuisine. Members of UGA’s Filipino Student Association, dressed in long red skirts and white blouses, performed a traditional folk dance known as Tinikling in which dancers step over large bamboo poles to an energetic beat.
“The festival really brings all of the different cultures [of UGA] together. I didn’t realize how diverse our campus actually was until today, ”said FSA member Michelle Pham.
The festival welcomed visitors of all ages – catering to children with craft tables and a face painting booth. With hands covered in glue and glitter, the children created international flag garlands, traditional European paper dolls, African jewelry and more. When asked about her favorite part of the event, 4-year-old Loretta Stafford enthusiastically replied, “The henna tattoos!”
The smell of fried dumplings and Mediterranean potatoes wafted through the Tate lawn as attendees lined up to sample food from various countries. Local restaurants such as Mediterranean Grill made sure nobody was left unfed. People bonded over their overflowing plates as the different vendors supplied them with second helpings.
“I’m from Malaysia and one of the biggest things that reminds me of home is my mom cooking me food. Going to all the food stalls is just so fun and feels homey, ”said UGA sophomore Jin Lee.
During the festival, a small soccer game started outside of the UGA bookstore – immediately attracting people of all ages and skill levels. Strangers became friends with each new round, and this was especially true for UGA sophomore Caleb Kerr.
“I came to meet a friend but he never showed up. I just met these guys, ”Kerr said while pointing at his teammates on the lawn. “I stayed for all the awesome performances and food. It’s great to see things that I normally don’t have the time to see or wouldn’t get involved in the first place if I hadn’t gone to this festival. ”
While the food and games were widely enjoyed, nothing brought people together like the music. Chinese ballads, upbeat Mexican anthems and top 40 American hits played throughout the event, creating a sense of solidarity among the crowd as heads bobbed and feet tapped in unison.
Minutes after receiving his Alumni Award of Excellence from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, UGA alum Swagata Banerjee revisited his old stomping grounds at Tate to enjoy the festival for the first time since graduating in 2004. A lifelong musician with performances with the New York Philharmonic under his belt, Banerjee felt at home upon hearing the music of both his and other cultures.
“Music is the universal language. Music and culture mean everything to me. I have seen this throughout my career working with the Nashville Songwriters Association and my own band, the Ban Brothers, ”Banerjee said.
As the event began to wind down and families headed in packs toward their cars, the different groups of students who made the event happen embraced one another, capping off the festival’s in-person return.