NWI Post-Tribune James D. Wolf Jr. September 20, 2016
Arshad Mosleh was having his photo taken in Valparaiso Saturday with as many people in their country’s native costumes as possible.
He returned the favor for many of those at the eighth annual World Cultural Festival, often with those photographed holding the full-sized Iraqi flag that Mosleh and other Iraqi students and descendants carried during the Parade of Nations that wound through Central Park to the stage.
He also held others’ flags in photos and, although this was the second year he attended the Valparaiso International Center’s major event, Mosleh was very enthusiastic about it and the people of Valparaiso.
“They are nice people, and they want to know everything about the world,” the second-year Valparaiso University law student said. “It’s a good opportunity to know all the cultures.”
He found it indicative of the United States, where “it’s very different here — The black, the white, Everyone is welcome,” regardless of religion, language or other differences, he said.
This was the fifth year the festival took place in Central Park, moving from the side street where it started at the Valparaiso International Center’s home at 309 East Lincolnway, said Center Founder and festival coordinator Duane Davison.
“We’ve grown leaps and bounds,” he said, noting the roughly 15 acts that included South Korean dancing from Chicago’s Global Pungmul Institute this year alongside Greek, Serbian, Indian and Mexican dancers, Puerto Rican music and American blues.
There were also 35 booths, including cultural offerings from groups like the Valparaiso High School Latin and Spanish clubs, The Confucius Institute of Valparaiso University, and countries represented included Pakistan, Japan, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Khurdistan and Kenya.
“Our goal is to connect the world to Valparaiso, figuratively and literally,” Davison said.
Aida Lugo McAllister, the new President of Indiana’s National Conference of Puerto Rican Woman, brought the group this year and has sold her cookbook “Aida’s Kitchen a lo Boricua” for a third year to educate on her native culture.
People know about Italian, Chinese and Mexican cuisine, but “when it comes to Puerto Rican, people haven’t the slightest idea of the ingredients,” McAllister said.
Viviana Ramirez, 16 , of Valparaiso, said the festival had much more to offer than it did when she attended two years before, and she received a henna Mehandi tattoo from Ramya Kota, A Valparaiso University student who has done the traditional wedding body decorating for 10 years.