Amidst the usual pedestrian traffic between the Corner and Scott Stadium that is inherent to Family Weekend, students and their families gathered at the McIntire Amphitheatre Saturday. Students and families received the opportunity to learn about various cultural dance and music groups at Culturefest, a gathering of culturally-affiliated groups on Grounds.
Culturefest started in 1987 and takes place every year during Family Weekend. The event is hosted by the University Programs Council and the Multicultural Student Center. This year, Culturefest had record participation, with 40 contracted independent organizations present at the event compared to 20 to 30 in past years. Furthermore, the event was planned for about 500 to 600 people. This is also the first year that attendees could receive Culturefest merchandise, including shirts, water bottles, stickers and more.
Culturefest consisted of many live performances by various culturally-affiliated groups on Grounds. CIO participants included the Vietnamese Student Association, Muslim Institute for Leadership and Empowerment, Central Americans for Empowerment, Latinx Student Alliance, Indian Student Union and the Organization for Young Filipino Americans — just to name a few.
The performances consisted of traditional dances, cultural fashion shows, martial arts and musical performances. CIOs also set up booths in front of the Amphitheater stage. Attendees could approach them to learn more about a particular CIO and their culture. The booths held various different activities, some giving out food that related to their respective cultures.
The event featured food catered by five different restaurants — Milan, Vu Noodles, Al Carbon, Little Manila and Pearl Island. The food options included samosas, paneer masala (marinated cheese in spiced gravy), naan, veggie noodles and tofu, chicken and roasted veggies and pancit (Filipino noodles) and lumpia (similar to spring rolls).
Fourth-year College student Johanna Moncada Sosa and fourth-year College student Kelvin Huynh acted as the two student co-chairs of Culturefest this year. Both Huynh and Moncada Sosa expressed their desire to promote the celebration of cultural diversity at the University. As co-chairs, they wanted to expand Culturefest and change the way things were executed.
“One thing we were trying to step away from [this year] was Culturefest being viewed as a transaction, in that people just go to see performances and then they leave, or they just get food and go,” said Moncada Sosa. “[We wanted to] make it more of an exchange instead.”
To do so, Moncada Sosa and Huynh implemented a food-ticketing system. Attendees could pick up a food ticket, and in order to redeem the ticket and get food, they had to visit at least five different CIO booths.
“[When] you visit five CIO booths, you see what they have to offer and talk to them and naturally meet people from other backgrounds,” Huynh said.
Moncada Sosa emphasized that Culturefest is a manifestation of the growing recognition by the University of student spaces like the MSC and the LGBTQ+ Center. She explained how the LGBTQ+ Center and the MSC are being moved upstairs in Newcomb for greater space, compared to their current locations in the Newcomb basement. Additionally, she mentioned the creation of the new Latinx Student Center, which will be located on Newcomb’s third floor.
“It can be very easy to move on from this University without realizing the issues that are going on, and thankfully right now we're in a transitional stage with the MSC, the [LGBTQ+ Center] and the LSC,” Moncada Sosa said. “We're all moving upstairs, which is really exciting because we are all going to have bigger spaces, spaces like the game room and the Kaleidoscope Room.”
Huynh added that the event gives students a chance to connect with peers from different backgrounds.
“Culturefest gives you the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, and yes, at U.Va. you can meet someone from a different background every day, but sometimes you don't take the step forward to do that,” Huynh said.
First-year College student Christopher Lin performed Wushu — a traditional Chinese martial art — at Culturefest this year. Lin finished his performance to roaring applause and cheers from the large crowd that had gathered, including the passers-by on their way to the football game that had witnessed a snippet of the Wushu performance and were compelled to stay until the end.
“Places like this I love coming, and really enjoy performing, because of the atmosphere … it's really great practice to get out here and perform in front of a ton of people, something that you have been practicing for some time,” Lin said.
First-year College student Elise Nguyen attended Culturefest because some of her friends from the VSA and OYFA were participating, and she came to support them.
“I think it is a great way to learn different things about different cultures ... the music, the dances, the traditional clothing — getting to see and interact with people and their cultures is really great,” Nguyen said.