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International camaraderie on display at ‘Festival of Nations’

International camaraderie on display at ‘Festival of Nations’

Annual event promotes Capital Region's diversity
International camaraderie on display at ‘Festival of Nations’
Dancers from the Taiwanese Association of America perform at Sunday's Festival of Nations in Albany.
Photographer: marc schultz/gazette photographer

ALBANY — The world may be a calamitous place.

But none of that turmoil was on display Sunday at an annual festival designed to build bridges and promote the Capital Region's cultural diversity.

“With all the problems in the world, it’s really good to have the opportunity for countries to share our values and work in harmony to make the program,” said Manoj Ajmera, chairman of the Festival of Nations.

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Hundreds converged at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center on Sunday for the 48th installment of the event. 

At least two dozen nations were represented, with groups setting up food and arts and crafts booths, as well as providing cultural performances showing their respective traditions. 

“In a short time, you can have a glimpse of the world,” Ajmera said. “There is great camaraderie.”

Rafi Topalian paused near his booth representing Armenia. 

“We are all here to celebrate and promote cultural diversity,” said Topalian, who had an American flag necktie draped loosely around his neck. “But the glue that holds us all together is we’re all American.”

Topalian, who is also known as “Rafi the Singing Jeweler,” was gearing up to sing patriotic songs — not only from the U.S., but elsewhere. 

“In these divisive times, this is the type of event we need to celebrate those things that make us Americans,” he said. 

Nearby, attendees buzzed as delegations from each nation lined up and prepared to enter the venue in an Olympics-type opening ceremony.

“It’s like a mini-UN, really,” Topalian said.

The hall also hosted numerous craft demonstrations. 

Representing Ukraine, for instance, Luba Kushnir explained how to paint pysanka, or hand-carved wooden Easter eggs.

“Every symbol has a meaning,” she said. 

Donna A. Hercules, founder of the Colonie-based clothing line Collection D-Alli, showcased a table full of shimmering accessories and clothing items.

There’s “absolutely” a local market for the garb, she said. “The Indian community is so dense in the Capital Region.”

Participants also hoped the event would stimulate interest in their community organizations, including Danuta Malina, member of the Albany Polish Community Center, who sat behind steaming vats of gołąbki, or stuffed cabbage rolls, pierogi and kielbasa.

Visitors noshed on food from dozens of vendors hauled in giant tinfoil tubs, including Ethiopia’s injera, a pancake-type bread heaped with vegetables and curries. 

“This is like vegan food,” said Feleklech Alula, who represented the east African nation.

Nearby, Delmar residents Matt Heuston and Heidi Myers waited to watch their son engage in a martial arts demonstration. 

Even his class at the The Chinese Martial Arts Academy in Latham is diverse, Myers noted.

“I think in these times, more of this is needed,” she said.

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