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35th annual Culture Fest showcases U.Va.’s diversity

Twenty-two CIOs from across Grounds celebrated their cultures on Saturday with food and performances

<p>The event was no less lively, and an estimated 1,000 students and families came out to support the various cultural CIOs performing on stage.&nbsp;</p>

The event was no less lively, and an estimated 1,000 students and families came out to support the various cultural CIOs performing on stage. 

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Every Family Weekend, students and their families have the opportunity to attend the University Programs Council’s Culture Fest to learn more about the diverse University community. The event, held Saturday in the McIntire Amphitheater, showcased food, performances and information from various cultures represented across Grounds. 

“[Culture Fest] is basically an opportunity for [CIOs] to show what they offer to Grounds,” said Rasheed Christian, fourth-year Batten student and vice chair of outreach for UPC and co-chair of Culture Fest. “Since it falls during parents weekend, it’s an opportunity for families to see themselves represented through these organizations.”

This year’s event marks the 35th annual Culture Fest since its inception in 1986 and a return to in-person Culture Fest. Due to COVID-19, last year’s event was entirely virtual and consisted of pop-up giveaways and online streaming of a cappella and dance performances. Unlike prior years, this year’s event was hosted solely by UPC rather than in conjunction with the Multicultural Student Center, due to difficulties  finding a student intern to liaise between the UPC and the MSS. 

This year’s event was also hosted on a smaller scale, with about five fewer CIOs than usual. Still, the event was no less lively, and an estimated 1,000 students and families came out to support the various cultural CIOs performing on stage. 

In total, 22 CIOs participated, including the Korean Student Association, the AKAdeMiX Dance Crew, the Polish Student Association, the Organization of Young Filipino Americans, Ektaal A Capella and the Hindu Students Council. Each CIO could set up a booth, perform, take part in the fashion show or do a combination of the three. 

Booths were set up around the amphitheater as an opportunity to learn more about each CIO, its involvement on Grounds and how to get involved. Some booths even handed out food from the culture their CIO represented or had interactive activities for attendees, such as fan decorating at the Sigma Psi Zeta booth. 

Performances at the event included cultural dances, martial arts, musical performances and fashion shows. A variety of student groups, including the Hooligans Breakdance Club, K-Edge Dance Crew and the APEX Dance Crew, performed dances.

“When it comes to CIOs at U.Va., there are a few that usually get the spotlight like UPC, UJC, Honor and UGuides,” Christian said. “I think cultural CIOs don’t really get the chance to express themselves … so I think Culture Fest works well because it allows UPC to use our resources to give them the spotlight and give them time to present themselves to the whole University community.”

The Vietnamese Student Association, the Hindu Students Council and the Afghan Student Association participated in the fashion show. Through the show, students showed off their traditional clothing to fun, upbeat music.

“Everybody out there having a good time — smiling, dancing, singing along, clapping, eating — I live for that, and I missed that during [COVID-19], so I’m happy it’s back,” Christian said. 

The event also catered from five local restaurants — Thyme & Co., Little Manila Charlottesville, Milan Indian Cuisine, Al Carbon and Pearl Island. Caterers provided lumpia, fried plantains, samosas, butter chicken, Creole beans, chicken with gravy and Pancit noodles. To be eligible to pick up food, attendees needed a small paper “passport” that was stamped at every booth visited. After receiving five stamps, attendees were eligible to get food and merchandise, such as a t-shirt, a water bottle and stickers. With 10 stamps or more, they would also be entered into a raffle to receive a prize that is to be determined. 

The passport system encouraged students to immerse themselves in the activities, preventing passersby from coming to UPC events solely for free food and merchandise. It also played into the experience of visiting different cultures around the world as students went from booth to booth. 

The event was planned by the two co-chairs of the Culture Fest planning committee, Christian and fourth-year College student Shahira Ali. Hamza Aziz, second-year College student and director of logistics subcommittee; Adrienne Malcolm, second-year College student and director of community outreach subcommittee; and Anoushka Sarkar, first-year College student and director of marketing subcommittee, also supported the preparation for Culture Fest. Each subcommittee also brought five to six general members, bringing the total number of students involved behind the scenes to 18, excluding the directors.

Since the Multicultural Student Center opted out of co-hosting the event this year, planning started later than usual. Typically, Culture Fest planning would pick up right after the end of UPC’s Welcome Week events. This year, UPC began coordinating about a month and a half before the event.

Thanks to the many members involved, the directors and their team were able put together a memorable return to in-person Culture Fest celebrations.

“I really enjoy being able to see other Middle Eastern orgs or just other cultural orgs in general,” said Zarin Khan, fourth-year College student and member of Afghan Student Association. “We get to have a space in a predominantly white university to be able to showcase and be proud of our culture, which I think is really important.” 

Others came to support friends performing or speaking at their CIO’s booths.

First-year College student Azhané Pollard came to see a friend in the OYFA performance, but Pollard noted her experience at Culture Fest gave her a refreshing taste of the extensive diversity within the University.

“I grew up in a place where there were only people who looked like me, so coming [to Culture Fest] was really nice to take a peek into how different cultures have different traditions,” Pollard said. “We also get to see all the cool things that they do.”

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