Diversity on display
The spirit of multiculturalism was in the air — and the food, the dance, the songs and the artwork — Jan. 17 as about 300 invited guests took part in the International Spring Festival 2013 Kick-Off Dinner at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School.
It was just a taste of the 22nd annual festival, set for April 20 at North Penn High School, which celebrates ethnic and cultural heritage and diversity through a wide array of global cuisines, displays and performances.
As guests glided around a dining area sampling curried chicken, vegetarian Israeli couscous, California rolls, General Tso's chicken. Mexican tuna, baklava, pizza and dozens of other delectable dishes, Tom Meyer — director of the Lansdale Public Library and co-chair of the International Spring Festival planning committee — explained that the night was designed “to let our current and previous sponsors know we’re doing this again, and hopefully generate even more interest, new sponsors, and some new volunteers.”
Meyer said while it was still too early to know what new things are in store for this year’s festival — other than moving the time to 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., as opposed to 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., as in years past — there was already one new sponsor on board: Quakertown National Bank. It joins a long list of sponsors that includes Merck, Univest, Abington Health Lansdale Hospital, Hatfield Quality Meats and Kohl’s.
“This is so much fun!” said Sodiah Thomas of S&B Event Concepts and Catering — one of many vendors who provided the evening’s food — as she stood over a tray of piping hot macaroni and cheese.
“We’re so happy to be contributing to the festival and it’s great to celebrate this area’s diversity,” she added.
Dosa Hut Chat House, Joa Sushi, Spatola’s Italian Restaurant and Pizza, Chong Dumpling House, Nadia, Crown Chicken Grill and Philly Espresso were just some of the businesses that donated food to the international buffet.
Among the invited guests, Meyer noted, were numerous corporate executives, nonprofit directors, and area educators — especially teachers involved in the arts and language fields — as well as staffers for U.S. Reps. Allyson Schwartz, Mike Fitzpatrick, Pat Meehan and other political figures. Lansdale Mayor Andy Szekely and several members of Lansdale Borough Council, as well as Lansdale Borough Manager Timi Kirchner, were also on hand.
Christopher Dock Principal Conrad Swartzentruber said he was “delighted” to host the kickoff dinner for the second year in a row.
“The mission of this event fits very much with the mission of our school,” he said. “We prepare our students for a global society, so tonight is really a microcosm of what we’re doing here.”
Swartzentruber was standing in front of a long row of tables displaying items from dozens of countries and cultures: Dolls from Holland, Slovakia, China and Poland; hand-carved statuettes from Malawi; clothing from Lebanon and Jordan; a boomerang from Australia; prayer beads, drums and miniature temple bells from Japan; and more.
“I always enjoy seeing different things from all over the globe — the clothes, the instruments, all the different ways we as people express ourselves through art and music,” said Swartzentruber.
“This is just a mini, condensed version of what you’re going to see in April,” Meyer added. “When you go into the gym at North Penn, the whole place is gonna be full of exhibits like this."
Last year’s festival featured 131 such displays, and both Meyer and planning committee co-chair Kathy McCarter — director of community health at North Penn VMA — hope there will be even more this year to educate and captivate the thousands of people who come to the free festival each year.
“We are so blessed to live in such a richly diverse community with phenomenal people, and learning about other people that may not think the same or eat the same foods is so important, especially for young people,” said McCarter, who also oversees the festival’s health fair, which provided free cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose screenings.
During an hour-long presentation after dinner, the Christopher Dock Concert Chorale performed Finnish and African folk songs; Apache Chief Grey Owl performed a traditional Native American dance; and the Guang Hua Chinese School of Dance appeared as well.
Keynote speaker Julie Walsh Henning — a Souderton Area School District educator and foster daughter of the late Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck — shared her rags-to-riches journey from an orphan in Seoul who was “despised and ridiculed” because her birth mother was Korean and her father American, to a more privileged life with Buck but one where she learned the value of diversity and appreciation for other cultures.
“She used her compassion, her writing, and her life to bring the world closer together,” said Henning of Buck, saluting those in attendance Thursday for trying to do the same through the International Spring Festival.
“It’s going to be a phenomenal event,” said McCarter. “Tonight is the start of the excitement. It's just the beginning of this whirlwind of activity as the committee works hard to put that wonderful day together.”
Though the list of performers for April’s festival is still being put together, organizers have already signed up Voloshky’s Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble. Visit the festival website, www.internationalspringfestival.com, in the coming weeks and months for updated information about vendors, performers, displays and volunteer opportunities.
Flora Sabo, left, serves food to Lansdale Borough Manager Timi Kirchner during the kick-off dinner for the Lansdale Public Library’s 22nd Annual International Spring Festival at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School Jan. 17.
Mohana Padgaomkar, left, serves food to Apache Chief Grey Owl Thunderheart during the event Jan. 17.
Lansdale Borough Councilwoman Mary Fuller, left, serves food to hungry guests.