Festival strengthens culture within community

By Blythe Alspaugh - For the Troy Daily News

TROY — Despite the downpour Saturday afternoon, residents of Troy came out to experience a cultural explosion at the annual Festival of Nations.

The Festival of Nations drew in people from all walks of life, from participants to performers to attendees. Booths representing countries from all across the globe featured arts and crafts, music, and food central to the cultures represented. What made the festival so successful, however, was teamwork.

“I’ve been with the committee for eight years as the facilities manager — we nominate a chairman every year, but the festival is put together by the entire group. It’s not just one person,” festival chairman Jerry Mullins said.

It takes roughly six months for the committee to plan the Festival of Nations every year — a lot of coordinating takes place with tent companies, the local school, and the city park services, as well as all of the delegations, which is handled by Abigail Ngoza-Jordan and Ruth Jenkins.

As co-chair of the delegations, Ngoza-Jordan maintains contact with the other participating delegations, makes sure they have the proper paperwork, assists in processing applications, and makes sure each delegation has their booths. She has been part of the festival for the last six years, and in addition to being co-chair of delegations, runs the South Africa booth at the festival. The South African booth features traditional instruments, figures of animals native to the country such as giraffes, and attendees can make their own peanut butter.

“I think it’s important for us to have the different countries represented, and the cultures represented, and come and celebrate Troy,” Ngoza-Jordan said. “I think we all need love and care, and with everything that is going on around the world, I think my goal and my desire is to encourage everyone. It doesn’t matter where you come from, we are all human beings, and we can encourage one another in whatever we do, we never give up.”

This year, the festival’s featured country was France, and the booth was headed by delegate Amorette Dye. A participant for four years, Dye’s interest in the festival was sparked by her daughter, Gabrielle, who wanted to march in the parade.

This year, Dye’s goal with her booth was to show how French culture and history ties in with American culture and history, as well as how French culture has influenced American culture. Among the information and activities, attendants could read about French fashion, spin a ‘cheese wheel’ for a prize, and see if their favorite song has a French twin.

“The whole festival has created a community where everyone is so happy to see each other again when they come back for another year,” Dye said. “It’s just really nice how everyone will say hello, and run and hug each other. It’s a nice group to be a part of.”

The strong sense of community is what keeps many delegates coming back, year after year. Rafael Echevarria heads the Puerto Rico booth, has been participating in the festival for over a decade. Echevarria initially got involved because of his wife, who used to head the Philippines booth. Following her death three years ago, he turned over the Philippines booth to her sister and started a booth to get in touch with his Puerto Rican heritage. His booth features traditional Puerto Rican stew with rice — a chance for him to bring a taste of Puerto Rico to his home of Troy.

“I’ve been in Troy for almost 20 years. I can go to Puerto Rico to visit, but I can’t wait to come back here,” Echevarria said. “I wanted to know more about other cultures, and Troy is a melting pot. It’s been like that for years, but now it’s more open. We all need each other, regardless of color, race, or nationality. We all need to work together.”

The melting pot of cultures, food, and entertainment from all around helps draw in attendants, even if the weather is less than pleasant at times.

“We’ve been out [here] before,” local resident Stephanie Dunne said. Dunne attended the festival with her husband and children this year. The dancing and Mediterranean food is what pulls them in, as well as the Italian delegation—specific to Dunne’s interest, who is of Italian heritage.

“It’s always nice to see different cultures and what they do.”


By Blythe Alspaugh

For the Troy Daily News