The sound of upbeat dance music and cheering from crowds poured out of the McIntire Amphitheater and onto Central Grounds this weekend for the University Programs Council’s 36-annual Culture Fest. An opportunity for cultural organizations to gain visibility through artistic expression, the event was held from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday.
At the event, students were able to experience various styles of dress, cultural cuisines, music and dance performances from various cultural groups. Twenty-nine CIOs were in attendance, performing, taking part in the fashion show, hosting an interactive booth or doing a combination of all three.
Kayla Denoo, director of UPC Cultural Connections Committee and second-year College student, emphasized the importance showcasing these CIOs.
“[Culture Fest is] a way for the University, because UPC is a part of the University, to give a platform to these organizations — a more widespread platform — for them to showcase their culture to the student population,” Denoo said. “We want to have as many students interact with these CIOs as possible.”
Students could grab food catered from Little Manila, Pearl Island, Pineapple Thai, Got Dumplings and Taste of Home before perusing the various interactive booths hosted by the participating CIOs.
The booths held interactive activities and information about each organization for students who might be interested in getting involved. One table hosted by the Persian Cultural Society had bookmarks for passersby to try their hand at Persian calligraphy and learn about Persian current events.
Third-year College student Mahni Yousefi said particiapting in Culture Fest and PCS keeps her in touch with her Persian roots.
“The Irani community is not as big here, but we’re trying to show our culture and being involved every day with this organization has me thinking about Iran all the time,” Yousefi said. “We’re spreading information about [Iranian current events] here because we can’t protest in Iran, so the most we can do here in PCS and at U.Va. is at least spread the information and educate people and Culture Fest is an opportunity to do that.”
The event also had a full schedule of performances ranging from traditional instrument performances by the Virginia Major Chinese Arts, to Kpop dances by APEX Dance Crew, to a cappella by Ektaal A Cappella. The event concluded with a fashion show jointly run by the Afghan Student Association, the Thai Student Organization, the Bengali Student Organization and the Persian Cultural Society. Students in each organization were able to represent their respective cultures with traditional clothing, strutting across the amphitheater stage and striking poses.
For many, Culture Fest provided exposure to a wide range of art forms and cultures.
John Le, member of Vietnamese Student Association and fourth-year College student, relished the opportunity to experience the vibrant displays of culture and learn more about diversity in the University community.
“My favorite part of Culture Fest is seeing the community support that all friends have for each other and their performances because it’s such a respectful environment,” Le said. “Everyone here is very passionate about what they do, and it’s nice to enjoy someone else’s culture, whether that’s through music, dances, lifestyle or just interests.”
Le also said he sees that Culture Fest is an important opportunity for minority organizations to have the spotlight at a predominantly white institution such as the University. For Le, Culture Fest is a unique chance to celebrate friends and their respective cultures.
“There aren’t a lot of opportunities to share our cultural heritage, but having formal organizations at a University where there aren’t that many minorities creates a place for us to gather and celebrate each other,” Le said. “It’s really nice and refreshing to see, especially with the parents here, because it reminds me of home.”
Yousefi echoed Le’s sentiments, adding that the chance to connect with other student organizations while learning about new cultures is part of what makes Culture Fest so special.
“Our community here at U.Va. is very diverse, but also disproportionately white compared to [people of color],” Yousefi said. “Having an event where we’re all able to come together and show how different we are but also how we’re still united together is so important.”