Event gives residents taste of other cultures

Published 7:00 am Monday, March 22, 2010

A line of dancers moved around a circle of more than 100 people, who clapped to the music and watched the performers.

The first Taste of Nations was held in Oak Park Mall Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. The event was put on by Riverland Community College, Austin Public Schools, Porter Language Services and other area groups.

“This is a great event because it makes people come together and understand cultures,” said Inusah Taimako, an exchange student from Ghana West Africa studying at Austin High School.

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Taimako performed a few dances during Taste of Nations, including one solo dance to a modern African song. He said he was proud to represent his country.

“I’m really excited, and I’m proud of my culture. It’s something that is of pride to me,” he said.

A similar event called Taste of Heritage was held last November in Albert Lea. Since the event was well received there, they decided to host a similar event in Austin said Martha Diaz, an immigration case worker with Catholic Charities.

Diaz was involved with the event in Albert Lea, and she said she immediately saw it as a positive way to bring the community together.

At one point, hundreds of people encircled the center court of the mall watching a Sudanese dance. Musical performances were a key part of the event, with many dance and musical acts performing.

Viviana Pintado, a Cuban musician who has been nominated for three Grammy awards, performed. She lives in the Twin Cities and also performed in Albert Lea.

About 50 booths were set up along the central court of the mall with pamphlets of information, posters and many people wore clothes native to their country or heritage. Free food samples were available at many of the booths.

“A while ago, there was a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment in Austin, so we tried to think of a way we could bring the community together,” Diaz said. “And what better way than with food.”

“This is about fellowship,” she added.

Diaz handed out crackers and a Mexican hot chocolate she said had cinnamon and vanilla in it.

The occasion was similar to the Festival of Nations event held in Minneapolis, and people could get an entire passport stamped at each booth.

Many different cultures and countries were represented: Honduras, Cuba, Columbia, Germany, Korean, Chile, Sudan, Mexico, Norway, the Czech Republic, Native American, and there was even a table for the U.S.A. serving hot dogs. Area organizations like the Welcome Center and Boy Scouts of America also had booths.

Organizers are planning to host Taste of Nations next year, as Diaz said the mall has already asked for them to come back.

Michael Porter of Porter Language Services also helped organize the event.

Porter works with translating, filling out forms and learning another language. He was also involved with Taste of Heritage in Albert Lea.

Porter said it’s important for people to walk through and learn about all the different cultures of people who live in the Austin area. Even though he works in a field where he meets people of many different backgrounds, Porter said he was surprised by how many different cultures are represented in Austin.

“I think it’s important that diversity is a part of the American culture,” he said.

“Diversity is a part of the American culture and everybody contributes a little bit and makes a broader culture,” he said.

Porter said the event and participants were largely organized through word of mouth.