International Festival Dancers

A group of Hispanic dancers perform the Jarabe Tapatio on Sept. 15 at the International Festival.

One woman was able to share her Dutch heritage with attendees of a festival while learning about others. Finding 11 other countries represented, Cecile Burbank celebrated diversity alongside other immigrants and attendees during Welcome Week, a national movement to bring immigrants and refugees together and make them feel welcome, according to Welcoming America.

Burbank shared her home country’s traditions, bringing Dutch clogs and wearing a milkmaid’s outfit as she showed images of tulips, herring, gouda cheese, and other iconic Dutch traditions.

Burbank felt drawn to the International Festival after moving to the United States to marry her husband, she said. She was born in the Netherlands and lived there for 25 years.

“I think it’s important to be proud of your country,” Burbank said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m the only Dutch person here.”

The fourth annual International Festival garnered over 3,000 people from around the world to the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, sharing cultures from 12 countries with residents of Northwest Arkansas. 

Festival attendees Kelly Krout and her son Joe enjoyed seeing Hispanic culture represented, as Joe is Hispanic, Krout said. 

“We were really excited to check out some of the cultural events in Northwest Arkansas,” Krout said. 

Freshman Hannah Lane said she attended the event for a class assignment, but was excited to learn more about different cultures. 

“Even though I was required to go, I am surprised at how much cultural diversity there actually is in Northwest Arkansas, because I’m not from around here,” Lane said while watching a calligraphy demonstration.  

Junior Ally Carter said she enjoyed trying the food and activities at the Thailand booth. 

Although some of the food was out of her comfort zone, Carter thought it was very interesting to  learn more about different countries, she said.

The volunteers working the booths offered food, drinks, activities and information to attendees of the festival, including lychee from the Thailand booth, a calligraphy demonstration from the China booth and the grass skirts and leis from the Samoa booth.

“The people who come out and volunteer and put on their dance performances – it’s so great to see how excited they are to share their culture,” said Liz Atwell, communications coordinator for the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. 

Eleven traditional dance and musical performances, along with the festival’s informational booths, represented cultures from the 12 countries.

The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks is a nonprofit organization, and its main priority is education, offering classes for preschoolers and elementary-age children, as well as summer camps and other fundraisers throughout the year.

“We have plants from all over the globe in our garden, so we felt it made sense to bring in people from all walks of the Earth,” Atwell said. 

This event was created after NWA residents showed their interest in international diversity, and the community’s response has been great, Atwell said. 

The staff at the botanical garden hopes to see more attendees next year and grow the number of countries represented.

Kristen Fite is a staff reporter for The Arkansas Traveler.

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