Nina Shalom, center, a member of the International Festival committee, works with volunteers at the booth that represents India at the Global Village at the Hopkinsville. The festival, which began in 2009, celebrates the county's rich cultural diversity. Photo submitted by the City of Hopkinsville

Nina Shalom, left, a member of the International Festival committee and Global Village coordinator, works with volunteers at the booth that represents India at the Global Village at the Hopkinsville International Festival. The event, which began in 2009, celebrates the county’s rich cultural diversity.
Photo submitted by the City of Hopkinsville

By Idalia Luna

When the 8th annual Hopkinsville International Festival kicks off in March 2017, the world will come to Hopkinsville.

For a small community, Hopkinsville is extremely diverse. We have more than 10 international industrial companies and Christian County is home to the Fort Campbell military installation – home of the 101st Airborne Division. Our community is rich in diversity and one of the top cities per capita in the state.

The idea of International Festival was to honor and celebrate the diversity that we already offer in our community. In my mind, when walking through the festival it reminds me of my hometown. Hoptown becomes the port of call for the world’s cultures in a land-locked state when the doors open for festival.

A woman performs a traditional African dance at the Hopkinsville International Festival. Photo submitted by Photo by the City of Hopkinsville

A woman performs a traditional African dance at the Hopkinsville International Festival.
Photo submitted by the City of Hopkinsville

Sponsored by the City of Hopkinsville, Kentucky Parks and Recreation Department and the Hopkinsville International Festival, the international festival continues to grow, expand and feature the diversity within our community. The festival attracts thousands of people to explore different cultures through sight, sound and taste.

We have had more than 13 countries represented in our Global Village. The village is designed with wood frames to give a home-like feel to the displays. Each country’s booth, staffed by volunteers from the community, is decorated with authentic artifacts, and facts about the country, flag and language spoken. A volunteer villager provides or demonstrates an activity for the visitors. Volunteers are locals that either are actual immigrants, share ethnic and cultural backgrounds, individuals that study or worked abroad, and student or civic groups that studied the country.

At the South Sudan booth, you can learn the story of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” and learn to beat a drum. While passing Mexico, the ladies will show off their typical folk dresses and show you how to make corn tortillas from scratch. You could go further south to Venezuela and learn how to salsa dance or gaze at the beautiful photos of the villager’s homeland.

Perhaps your dream is to cross the Pacific Ocean, but you can’t afford to take time off or the cost to travel may be too much. Don’t worry, travel to Japan a few steps down. At Japan’s booth, they will share the art of origami and paper lanterns. Travel to India and smell the spices, touch beautiful fabrics and decorate your hand with traditional henna tattoos.

9-1-16 GCWL Hopkinsville Internation LogoGlobal Village is just one small part of the festival. In the past two festivals, we developed the Language Lab. In this lab, you have the opportunity to learn conversational key words and pleasantries in a foreign language. We have volunteers within our community who are fluent and willing to share and teach others their native language or the language they learned to love.

Visitors at the language lab have the opportunity to learn one-on-one or in a group setting. A handbook is provided at no cost as a resource tool. I am amazed to see how many adults and children have never been exposed to another language besides English.

I reflect on how fortunate I have been to be raised in a bilingual home. I am originally from Miami and a proud Puerto Rican American. The public schools in Dade County, at the time, required you to take another foreign language class if you already were immersed in one due to your cultural background. So in high school, I chose Italian, which made me trilingual.

My daughter attended a public elementary school in Florida that immersed students in foreign language as early as 1st grade. She learned subjects such as math, history or science in English, Spanish and Creole – a dialect of French. When we moved to Kentucky, the reality of being exposed to global languages became my duty as parent to teach my children as much as possible every day.

While I was a student at Hopkinsville Community College, the Minority Student Union organization hosted a Taste of Cultures. In essence, it was a potluck lunch and it was a huge success. It opened the doors to conversation about the cultures represented at the lunch. My “abuelita” – or grandmother – always told me the best way to start any conversation is to share a plate of food with someone. I would say being raised in Miami was like the port of call of the world’s cultures.

Global language is vital not only in my own home, but also for our community and our nation to succeed in the future. Learning other languages allows us to tear down prejudicial walls and increase positive attitudes toward a multicultural world, while stomping out fear of the unknown.

The festival really showcases our community and taps into global community through spoken word at the Story Time Tent with storytelling in more than 10 languages. The faces of both kids and adults lit up with enthusiasm as I read about the tree frog we call “coqui” whose natural habitat is the island of Puerto Rico.

I can see how much the community has embraced the festival, with thousands of visitors attending just this past year. It really is a testament to how much our neighbors and friends desire to learn more of the world we all share. Global languages should be in the foundation of education as early as possible.

The Sherman Brothers and Walt Disney said it best in a song – “It’s a small world after all.” Our children should have the opportunity to be successful leaders and caretakers of our rich and diverse world.

To learn more about the Hopkinsville International Festival, click here.


Idalia Luna is a city employee for Hopkinsville. She also serves as Hopkinsville human relations commissioner and International Festival committee member.