Cornucopia of diversity


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For Shriya Anavkar, the UI Celebrating Cultural Diversity Festival was more than a chance to express her culture.

At the Sunday festival, she and her husband stood behind a long black table embellished with beaded and wooden jewelry and other artifacts from their culture.

Anavkar brings the souvenirs, covered in color and sparkle, from her native village of Anav, India, and sells them in Iowa.

“It started out as a hobby,” the 45-year old said. “People would always ask about my bangles and accessories, so I thought I would bring them back with me.”

Anavkar has turned her 10-year hobby into a small philanthropic effort; she now donates all of her profits to schools in Anav.

Her table was one of many at the 20th-annual festival held in the Field House. The tables represented a wide variety of countries, including China, Mexico, the Czech Republic, and Thailand.

For Peter and Katy Hansen, this year marked their 10th festival, and they said they have yet to get tired of it.

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“It’s always very interesting to try all the different kinds of food and see all the performances,” said Katy Hansen, 69. “You always see a lot of friends, too.”

Peter Hansen noted the flags hanging around the main deck in the Field House, representing more than 100 countries. Behind each flag was the number of UI students from that country.

“It’s incredible how many students are from other countries,” said the 70-year-old, noting more than 900 come from China.

China is where the majority of the UI’s 2,423 enrolled international students are from. The rest come from 114 different countries.

Volunteers served food from different cultures at the booths, and people lined the large eating tables in the middle of the main deck. One could sit at a table and hear two different languages trying to be heard over the loud, ethnic rhythms playing on the main stage.

For UI freshman Jackie Correa, her first experience at the festival was so enjoyable that she plans to attend next year.

“It’s really fun to see all the cultures and how they represent themselves,” she said. “It’s really interesting to see that, even though they have their differences, they have their similarities, too.”

She will return next year just for the food, if nothing else, Correa said.

“How often do you get the opportunity to eat food from places such as Thailand or Korea at the same time?”

Participants performed 13 musical acts, including Korean traditional dance and swing dance.

“That you can get good ethnic food and be entertained by a country’s culture is enough reason to come,” said UI pharmacy student Farah Towfic, who has attended the event twice before. “Plus, the money you spend on the food goes to the cause, so why not?”

UI pharmacy student Rachel Elsey, who has attended the festival four times before, said the feeling of community keeps her coming back.

“Sometimes, it feels as if everyone is separated from the rest of the university community,” she said. “It’s nice to have something where everyone comes together and celebrates these cultures.”

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