PHOTOS: International Festival of Holland takes visitors around the world in a day

West Michigan residents turned out to learn about cultures from across the world during the third annual International Festival of Holland on Oct. 1. The fun, free, and family-oriented event was put on by the city of Holland’s International Relations Commission with the support of donors.  

The International Festival builds upon the International Relations Commission’s vision of connecting the city with the wider world," says Esther C. Fifelski, the city's Human Relations Director.

"The week began with a federal court naturalization ceremony of 184 individuals – truly an amazing event," she says. "
From the morning World Cup Soccer event to the mercado, food vendors to the amazing entertainment, it was a great day for our community.   We could not bring this to the community without the support of our community sponsors who support our vision."
Natu Camara, of New York, performs Afro-rock, pop and soul music during the International Festival. Camara was the main headliner of this year’s Festival. (J.R. Valderas)

"The Holland International Festival is a fun-filled day for the entire family and community as a whole. Each year the festival is getting better and better," says Allison Baraza, an IRC member who volunteered at the event. "The diversity of the food, programs, entertainment, information tables and stores is so wonderful and keeps growing."

The goal of the event is to create global awareness, education and celebration. Baraza says she hopes the event continues to grow as the community feels invited to share their own culture with the community. She would also like to see better accessibility at the Holland Civic Center for people who use wheelchairs. 

WHTC 1450 AM-99.7 FM and The Van 92.7’s Stefan VanderMolen and Gary Stevens opened this year’s festival, welcoming everyone to the event in the Holland Civic Center. Live music and dances were performed by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi of Dowagiac, Seffarine, Samuel Nalangira and The Crew of Kalamazoo, Salserines, Changüí Majadero of Los Angeles, and Natu Camara of New York.  

Mike Tuccini and Kathleen Schenck, of Holland, and visitors attending the International Festival of Holland dance to the Cuban roots music of Changüí Majadero, of Los Angeles, California, at the Holland Civic Center. (J.R. Valderas)

Gentex and CultureWorks sponsored a Children’s Fiesta on the upper floor of the Civic Center. Children of all ages got hands-on experience with international art by exploring pattern-making in Greek, Indian, African and Mexican cultures, along with taking part in an  African drum and dance performance by Samuel Nalangira and a Dragon Dance by Golden Tiger Kung Fu & Extended Learning Academy.  

This was the first year, the Holland Symphony Orchestra (HSO) joined the festival as a community partner. The nonprofit invited children to make dancing rings out of colorful ribbon and decorate small maracas, a musical instrument.

HSO board member Jane Vander Meer praised Fifelski and the IRC team for all their work in bringing together the annual event.

They "have done a phenomenal job of creating space for performers, vendors, and participants to celebrate our world and connect as global citizens. All of our senses were energized," says Vander Meer.

"Participating was especially meaningful as we launch our Music Unites Us project.  We are excited about new connections with a broad array of music ambassadors in our Lakeshore area. We loved listening to Samuel Nalangira and are inspired by his ability to create innovative music that engages children to seniors through his heritage rhythms, vocals, and dance. We are looking forward to his leadership along with other groups who will teach us their musical traditions at our free community concert next summer in Kollen Park."

Samuel Nalangira, of Samuel Nalangira and The Crew from Kalamazoo, performs Ugandan music during the International Festival of Holland at the Holland Civic Center. (J.R. Valderas)

The event also included a Festival Mercado, featuring a variety of international arts, crafts, and goods from Zagoda Olive Oil, Split Tree Wood Shop, The Bridge, Motherland Cultural Connections, Raimsko  LLC, and Winding Country Roads, along with ethnic foods from the Ethiopian Community Association of  Grand Rapids, Mi Favorita Grocery, Jhomary’s Paradise, A Taste of Africa, Taqueria La Tia Linda, Tiki Boiz Island Grindz, Dolce Mini Cakes, Novel Pastries, and Celtic Kitchen.  

Youngsters create passports in the Passport Station section of the Children’s Fiesta during the International Festival of Holland at the Holland Civic Center. (J.R. Valderas)

Nonprofit organizations on hand to pass out literature to visitors included the African Collaborative Network, Ottawa Department of Public Health, Empowering Youth Global Connections, Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony, Samaritas, Hope College, Holland Museum, Holland Symphony Orchestra, Bethany Christian Services, Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival and Highland Games, Holland Board of Public Works, Community Action House, Salserines, Latin Americans United for Progress, Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates, and the  Allegan/Ottawa/Barry Migrant Resource Council.


Read more articles by J.R. Valderas.