Forever Evolving

Brunswick County Intercultural Festival
Brunswick Community College
Odell Williamson Auditorium
9/10, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. • Free!

Bruswick County Intercultural Festival goes into its eighth year of celerbrating our area’s diverse population. Photos courtesy of Mari-Lou Wong-Chong

The most invaluable experiences are those that expose us to the unfamiliarity of other cultures. There are few, if any things, I am more proud of than my two years living on an island in the South Pacific. As a Peace Corps volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga, a practically unheard of group of islands, I was—for all intents and purposes—a teacher. However, I found myself more privy as a student, learning much more from my submergence into its culture.

Founded on immigration, the United States’ melting pot of civilians evolve cultural boundaries, making it difficult to define on a whole. Taking chances to learn about others, in many ways, sheds light on our own. Thus, Brunswick County’s Intercultural Festival has gradually brought more cross-cultural education to local children and adults by featuring the area’s history and world culture. Going into its eighth event, the festival is free, and packed with numerous performing artists, children’s activities and an international pavilion. There’s also an intercontinental food tasting.

Initial inspiration for the intercultural event began as a gathering of the Hispanic community—with the intent of expanding into other ethnicities. Current co-chair Mari-Lou Wong-Chong confirms, “It has evolved tremendously.” Born in the Philippines and educated in the States and Canada, Wong-Chong moved to Brunswick County over five years ago. She immediately garnered interest in the festival but noticed it wasn’t quite diverse enough at the time. With her experience as the program manager for Asian Americans of the Pittsburgh Federal Equal Employment Agency, Wong-Chong jumped in head first.

“I introduced the idea of the International Pavilion,” she explains, “where educational cultural displays from different countries could be presented. The first year was received very favorably, [and by] word of mouth, we discovered many local residents from different ethnic backgrounds. Year after year, we continue adding more countries under the pavilion.”

Not alone in her efforts, Wong-Chong collaborated with many to conceptualize the event. Today, dedicated volunteers commit to the planning committee, and sponsors support the quest for global intercultural education in our own backyard. As many as 3,000 people have enjoyed the festival in the past. Countries from all over the world are represented from Europe to Asia, Latin America to Africa, Caribbean to Brunswick County.

Ethnic restaurants from the area and individual contributors donate food. This year, festival goers will journey the world through gastronomical experience for $5. “To date we have at least 17 different cuisines,” Wong-Chong reveals. “Can’t beat that for less than a fast-food combo meal!”

While cross-cultural education excels, hourly door prizes will be given out during entertainment spots. Most importantly, education will be at the forefront of the cultural immersion, as folks can learn the Argentine Tango or about the Czech Republic’s City of 100 Towers. They will be able to hear about Mexico’s Aztec heritage and Central America’s Mayan ruins.

Focusing on education and children outreach, Supply Elementary School students will display what they’re learning about in their global studies class. The children’s choir will also present songs learned from different countries, while a local resident who was born in the area will share his passion for historical data about Brunswick County.

“It is my vision that [the intercultural festival] will continue to grow as something Brunswick County and the surrounding area will look forward to every year, even long after me,” Wong-Chong concludes. “American culture is in a state of evolution. We are seeing [different] people becoming part of the community. Given this fact, it’s imperative for us and our children [to] understand the importance of various cultures of the world and not look at the[m] with fear and apprehension. By educating ourselves, our children and the community, we maximize our potential, our understanding and our tolerance for each other so that we can all live in peace.”

The Brunswick County Intercultural Festival will take place Saturday, September 10th, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., in front of Odell Williamson Auditorium at Brunswick Community College, located just off Highway 17. For information on the Intercultural Festival, e-mail: interculturalfestival@hotmail.com, visit http://interculturalfestival.wordpress.com or call 910-842-6566.

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