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The city of Jackson collaborated with international residents, university professors and artists to host the first International Food and Art Festival Saturday, October 4 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the city square downtown.
The festival gave Jackson residents a chance to support local artists and businesses as well as celebrate cultural diversity.
It opened with opportunities to purchase food, merchandise and art from local vendors. Booths representing about a dozen different countries lined all of East Main Street. Visitors could sample filafal from Syria, samosas from India and horchata from Mexico, among others.
“The Indian food was my favorite part…it’s fantastic!” said Mason Ruby, freshmen physics major.
Local artists also had a chance to market themselves. Festival attendees could get henna tattoos and purchase caricature sketches or calligraphy designs. Several local musicians, dancers and story-tellers performed throughout the day on a stage in front of the courthouse.
At noon, members of Jackson’s international community divided into groups according to their home countries and paraded down Main Street as the crowd around them whistled and applauded. Every group was dressed to represent its culture and waved its country’s flag. Others elected to play music from their country as they walked or perform traditional dances.
According to Dr. Jean Marie Walls, chair of the language department and member of the IFAF planning committee, the goal for the festival was to integrate different sections of Jackson’s community. The planning committee intentionally reached out to local universities in addition to businesses, artists and internationals in order to draw them all together.
“The breadth of collaboration was very impressive,” Walls said. “We were thrilled with the success of the festival…it was a really rewarding experience to become connected with areas of the community that I had not known and work with Union students who were excited to help put this event on.”
Union University sponsored the event, and students participated in a variety of ways. Rob and Jay Griffith, senior English majors, performed a music set. The ISU had an information booth set up, as did MOSIAC and LASSO. Many of Union’s international students walked with their home countries during the parade of cultures. Other students simply enjoyed attending and seeing the diversity present in Jackson.
“One thing we’ve heard from students is that they had no idea all these cultures were here,” Walls said.
Rebecca Reisner, sophomore special education major, said, “I think this is a really good thing for Jackson because it brings people together to share and learn that otherwise wouldn’t interact much.”