Cultural festivals & cultural identity…

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Summer is definitely here! I can tell just by some of the fun things we have been up to in the last few weeks. Each year, various festivals pop up all over in our and nearby cities/towns. They range from celebrating cultures to harvest to anything and everything in between. Last year we checked out the Russian festival as I thought my husband-the Russian speaker-may enjoy it. The event was held in a church and included local entertainment put on by youth groups and individuals from the community-in Russian (which I do not speak but I got the gist of the entertainment since it included acting and my husband translated a lot). A few hundred people attended and it gave me further insight into the culture. Not much Russian food was available to taste or buy, unfortunately-and I guess it would be bad to have vodka drinking going on in a church! But, it was still interesting to learn about a different culture.

This year we went to the Italian festival instead which attracts thousands and for which streets are blocked off. There was not that much Italian about it other than some superficial touches but there was plenty of food to choose from-and not only Italian food! My husband devoured pizza and spicy sausages on the street while I kept an eye out for a veggie burger (unsuccessfully) and was tempted by the Thai food. I really like cultural festivals but they are getting less and less cultural and more and more commercial. While the Russian one was very Russian-I did feel totally out of place. It did not really attract anyone outside of those from the former USSR or Russia which is too bad as this is a great way to learn about each other! The Italian one was not very Italian and was more commercial.

As I attend such festivals I realize I wish I had the opportunity to be more involved in my Indian community as a child but our family lived way out in the country so it was impossible. Also, the only opportunities at that time were strongly religious based and not cultural. My own community has events which attract thousands now but I have not really gotten very involved in them other than as a guest. There are so many people from my community around that my cultural identity is fairly strong. When I visited my state in India, I felt totally at home. This makes me wonder of what it will be like for my children who are from two very different cultures but living in North America. Will they struggle with their cultural identities? One reason that this comes to mind is because my sister is visiting from Florida with her children and husband. Her husband is American but with Italian and Irish roots. The children have picked up a bit of this and that from our particular culture due to their exposure to all of us but that is about it. I guess they will more American as they grow up. In my case, because my future children will grow up living closer to my family on a regular basis (not way down in Florida) the Indian flavour will be stronger. Also, as my husband is a recent immigrant and we will be travelling back and forth to Georgia often, am sure they will be influenced more strongly by that culture as well. I am fairly sure we are the first Indian-Georgian match in the world so it will be interesting. Of course, with all those Indian farmers buying up land in Georgia, I am also sure we will not be the last!

Multiculturalism is a beautiful thing. Recently, due to my fabulous job, I also put on a multicultural festival of my own last month. I have been supporting a committee of volunteers to get this event together for the last few months. Finally, the event came and went-and it was a smashing success. I learned I have some mad skills in event planning, fundraising, and management. I knew this before but this was a true test as it was on a larger scale than I have dealt with in the past.  We had dancing from around the world-my favourite performances were from Thailand and Vietnam-along with food, art, and cultural informational booths. Our goal was to promote greater tolerance and understanding of the various cultures that make up our communities. It was a fun and rewarding job-and in many ways better than all those festivals I have attended. Hmmm…maybe I need to take over a few of them! Perhaps a new career is around the corner! Just kidding!

Addition on July 19th 2013: I have to take back the comment about us likely being the first Indian-Georgian match as I remembered Stalin’s daughter (he was from Georgia even though it was part of the USSR at that time) was in a relationship with an Indian Communist doctor named Brajesh Singh. They were not allowed to marry but lived together until his death. She even went to India to return his ashes.

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