Columbia Association holds its annual International Day festival at the lakefront

A cultural smorgasbord unfolds in music, dance and martial arts

August 01, 2007|By Teresa Lewi | Teresa Lewi,Sun reporter

On a hot, humid day, Caron Dale, lead singer of Lox & Vodka, danced in a circle to klezmer music with residents who came to the Columbia Town Center lakefront by the hundreds to celebrate diverse cultures.

After the band finished its performance, she noted that "the people who were here were diehards ... exactly the audience we were looking for." She described klezmer as "upbeat" and "happy" dance music typically sung in Yiddish. It was the band's first appearance at the Columbia Association's annual International Day festival.

Brenda Holmes, a Columbia resident who has attended the event for the past six years, said, "I think it's nice, and it's something free to do, and they say the best things in life are free."

Holmes said she brought her grandson to the outdoor festival Saturday to watch the cultural performances. The event ran from noon to 11 p.m.

Neghar Ackerman and her husband and son walked to the festival from their house in nearby Hickory Ridge village to see some of the shows in the early afternoon, including traditional Korean dances and martial arts performances.

Ackerman, who sat on the grassy amphitheater facing the stage and the lake, said it was her family's first time at the event, which she thought was "fantastic."

Richard and Harriet Tobin of Kings Contrivance have been coming to the festival for several years to learn about different cultures and for the performances of Jewish music, which Richard Tobin said he likes to hear "over and over again."

"This is what we're all about ... sharing our culture, and we love doing it for people who appreciate the diversity that our country holds," said Dale, who founded Lox & Vodka, a Washington-based klezmer band, in 1983.

Lox & Vodka, which performs in Hebrew, Yiddish and English, entertained the audience at International Day by playing traditional Jewish songs and telling jokes.

The entertainment included music from India, Cuba, Brazil, Ghana and Japan.

In addition to performances, the festival featured a decorated-umbrella exhibition, international food and crafts vendors and activities for children.

Participants in the umbrella art project painted and taped pictures relating to the theme, "World Celebrations: People, Places and Experiences," on dark green umbrellas. Those who attended International Day had the opportunity to vote on about 40 umbrellas displayed by the lake.

Another attraction at the festival was the crafts display by vendors under Columbia Association-provided tents surrounding the lakefront. Many of the products were handmade and imported from countries in Africa, Asia and South America.

Gladys Huaman, who runs a family business called Inka Kuya in Ellicott City with her husband, participated in International Day for the first time as a vendor.

Her store sells handmade garments and ceramics from Peru, her native country, and she wanted to "give information to people about our store for free."

For Margaret Wamukoya, a new Columbia resident, the event allowed her to "share the diversity of the cultures with the community and learn from each other." Wamukoya displayed crafts made by Kenyan children and women, with proceeds going to support poor children in Kenya.

Not all of the participants were vendors. This was Columbia resident Safiyah Blake's third year at International Day as a volunteer for the nonprofit organization WhyIslam. org.

"We are volunteers to help answer questions and explain to people misconceptions from the media about Islam," Blake said. She and her husband distributed pamphlets about Islam to help the public better understand her religion.

After the two-hour performance by Lox & Vodka in the afternoon, the Columbia Association recognized visitors from Spain and France who took part in the summer student exchange program with county residents.

Michelle Miller, director of the association's division of community services, said that about 65 youths are in the program, including high school students from Howard County and its sister cities, Cergy-Pontoise, France, and Tres Cantos, Spain.

"International Day was established to celebrate the fact that Columbia is a community of many cultures," Miller said. She estimated that about 4,000 people attended this year's festival.

Jason Baker, an Ellicott City resident who gives tribal dance and drum lessons, said he has gone to the event for the past four or five years because he knows people who have performed at International Day.

"I like that it's grown over the years, and it gives exposure to different cultures," he said.

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