Festival of Nations' diverse lineup of artists to welcome growing immigrant groups
Music, food and art from nearly 100 countries will be represented at the International Institute of St. Louis Festival of Nations event this weekend at Tower Grove Park.
The festival will feature performances from award-winning artists from around the world, including Indian singer Ricky Kej, Dominican rapper MelyMel and South African singer Nomcebo Zikode. Festivalgoers can also vibe to St. Louis rapper Mvstermind.
Institute officials say the festival lineup reflects some of the region's fastest-growing communities, said International Institute of St. Louis President Arrey Obenson said.
“We are trying to bring out those populations that are here, by giving them an opportunity to be part of the festival, to feel included, to feel welcome and to feel at home,” he said.
Besides international musicians, the festival will feature cultural groups from the St. Louis region, among them the St. Louis Flamenco Society and the St. Louis Modern Chinese School.
Festivalgoers also will find familiar foods, cultural dances and wellness activities.
New immigrants have a sense of pride in their countries, but now that they are residents they also want to make St. Louis home, and seeing their culture represented in St. Louis helps, Obenson said.
“Immigrants like myself will travel to different parts of America, to watch performances from our country, because we have large communities in those parts of America that have the ability to invite performances from our countries,” said Obenson, a native of Cameroon. “That doesn't happen too often in St. Louis.”
To help newly arriving Indians — St. Louis’ largest growing foreign-born population — adjust to life in a new country, the institute commissioned four popular Indian artists performing at the festival.
Indulging in Indian culture at the Festival of Nations helps young Indian immigrant students make the decision to stay in St. Louis instead of going back home or to another state, said Arindam Kar, a lawyer.
“It really helps with the ability to retain those families, those students who may graduate and say, hey, you know, this is where I want to start my professional career, because I have everything I need,” he said.
Kar moved to St. Louis from Iowa with his Indian immigrant parents in 1994. He remembers how in those early years, St. Louis did not offer much that reflected the Indian community.
“Like any foreign-born population, once they come to the states, they're always looking for signs of home, and things that remind them of home,” he said.
But now Kar and other children of Indian immigrants or newly arriving Indian immigrants have access to grocery stores with Indian foods and even access to entertainment.
“My cultural background is important to where I live, and that I don't feel isolated … going back to India to visit family and things like that, that's a significant investment,” Kar said. “I think on a number of levels, if you're a young, single international student, it's that connection to your community and for a family, it's a great way to showcase your cultural background to your kids.”