Celebrating diversity


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For its 20th anniversary, the Celebrating Cultural Diversity Festival isn’t ordering fireworks or lining up Lady Gaga to throw it down on the main stage. It doesn’t need to.

“Every year is special,” said Nicole Nisly, the UI interim chief diversity officer and a UI associate vice president. “One festival never looks like the one that came before it, because it’s about the content, and the content is the people.”

The popular Turkana music group, Moy Yat Ving Tsun Kung Fu, and a Korea-based dance troupe are a mere sample of what to expect at the festival in the Field House from noon to 5 p.m. Feb. 21.

Admission into the event is free, and ethnic foods, arts, and crafts will be available for purchase.

“As the world gets smaller, we learn about all these issues going on outside of Iowa,” said Bret Gothe, a member of the festival’s planning committee. “You meet a student from Haiti at the festival, and all of a sudden, you feel a connection to what you’ve been hearing and seeing on the news.”

The UI’s total international enrollment consists of 2,423 students from 115 different countries — the largest international population coming from China to the lowest single-student populations including Uzbekistan, Gambia, and Estonia. Gothe believes in the cultural event’s ability to draw international issues closer to home.

“The festival gives people the opportunity to interact with different groups they might not have been able to meet otherwise,” UI student Zakir Durumeric said. “It opens up a whole new world of things that maybe you didn’t know existed.”

He grew up attending the festival annually, and he is now in his third year serving on the festival’s planning committee. The native of Iowa City found it difficult to describe the magic of the event.

“It was really a sensory overload as a child,” Durumeric said. “I basically remember there being a lot of people and a lot of music playing all around me.”

These days, he looks forward to the annual event as an escape from the cold and snow to a world full of color and tempting aromas. Durumeric, who is of Turkish descent, attested to the cultural authenticity of the groups represented at festival.

The event consists of a main performance stage for music and dance, the North Gym for lessons and demonstrations from hapkido self-defense to Egyptian and Lebanese dance, and children’s area rooms including crafts and dress-up. Cultural groups and organizations also line the perimeter of the running track to sell food and hand out information. In honor of the Haiti relief fund, the Grant Wood Area Chapter of the American Red Cross will have a booth set up to take donations.

“There’s a group of very committed people working every year to put this festival together,” Nisly said. “Particularly the students [in the committee] bring in a special infusion of energy and always have new ideas to share.”

The committee has paid extra attention this year in welcoming and catering to those with disabilities, she said.

“We’re doing this because we really realize that having a disability is just another form of diversity,” Nisly said. “We don’t want people to hesitate about coming just because they have a disability.”

In her definition, diversity covers all realms of distinctions including ethnic, economic, religious, and sexual. Everyone is different, and everyone is welcome.

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