The air was filled with the sounds of many different languages and the smells of exotic spices on Wednesday as the crowds milled through the Welcoming Week International Festival held at Bo Diddley Plaza.
The common theme among the event’s attendees was diversity. Individuals from across the globe gathered at the festival to share and express their culture in a way that they said was normally hard to achieve.
“I feel like it brings international people from Gainesville together because there are not many opportunities to hang out with each other here,” said event attendee Ajna Topić, a 19-year-old University of Florida international student from Bosnia and Herzegovina. “On campus, we have a lot of opportunities, but there are not many opportunities to collaborate with the city of Gainesville.”
The event attracted performers and vendors of all ages and backgrounds. The Oak Hall School’s Taiko drum ensemble Tsubasa! performed at the event. Taiko is a style of drumming that is traditionally Japanese.
“It shows everyone else that’s watching what the different cultures are and they’re aware of that,” said Tsubasa! performer Tom Gilor, age 14. “It just broadens people’s perspectives.”
The event represented not just the diversity of nations, but also the diversity of religion. Many performers came to express their spirituality in a welcoming and inclusive environment.
Ministries of Expressive Song and Dance, which also performed at the event, is a nonprofit organization in Gainesville that provides affordable dance lessons for children and adults in the community.
“Our mission is just to inspire, motivate and encourage good virtues,” said Elois Waters, CEO and founder of Ministries of Expressive Song and Dance.
Retired Gainesville resident Ocie Alston, 66, said she spends much of her free time enjoying the scenery of Bo Diddley Plaza. She said that events like this make her feel hope for the next generation.
“I enjoy sitting out here, and like I said, I’m retired,” Alston explained. “So you know, I just enjoy sitting out here in the plaza a lot. And I really like seeing those kids dance because…that gives them a future to look to…and that’s what these kids need.”
The event was hosted by the Greater Gainesville International Center. The center is a member of a larger network of similar organizations called Welcoming America. Former Gainesville mayor and president of the Greater Gainesville International Center Lauren Poe attended.
Poe said the event in Gainesville, and in other cities, was designed to highlight international communities in hopes that cities will become more welcoming.
“So we are hosting this event on behalf of the City of Gainesville to bring awareness and more than anything to bring our community together and give everyone a chance to celebrate and enjoy one another’s company in a fun and welcoming environment,” Poe said.
Veronica Rosich, 27, a UF student from Venezuela, said she enjoyed the dancing, including music with drums and Indian people dancing.
“I think having a chance to look at different cultures is very enriching and feels like traveling around the world just by looking at the scenario,” Rosich said.