Explore diverse cultures and different parts of the world this weekend without leaving Columbia. The 23rd annual Columbia International Festival offers an opportunity to watch performances and learn about countries our neighbors or their families once called home — and to taste food from those countries.
On Saturday, April 14, and Sunday, April 15, thousands will descend upon the South Carolina State Fairgrounds to celebrate the diversity, history and heritage of more than 100 cultural groups.
“The Columbia International Festival uniquely showcases our region’s multiracial and multicultural cosmopolitan nature,” says Dr. Raj Aluri, director of the festival and president of International Friendship Ministries. “There is no other event as colorful as this event anywhere in South Carolina. I am talking of the color of peoples' skin and the color of their costumes and the colorful decorations and handcrafts which fill our venue.
“The Columbia International Festival develops greater cultural awareness and mutual appreciation that leads to better community relations between South Carolina’s native and foreign-born citizens.”
The festival has drawn repeat visitors over its 23 years in Columbia. They come for the authentic ethnic food, the international cultural entertainment, national/cultural exhibits, an international bazaar and a colorful Olympic-style international flag ceremony. Organizers expect more than 20,000 people.
The festival brings people together from more than 100 cultural groups in the Midlands. Richland and Lexington counties have residents of approximately 200 nationalities who speak more than 90 languages. And about 300,000 foreign-born people, nearly 7 percent of the state's population, call South Carolina home.
"This is a wonderful way to travel around the world without leaving South Carolina," Aluri says. “With the support of the Columbia community, the Columbia International Festival has become the largest and long-running international celebration in the state of South Carolina.”
Here are five reasons you don’t want to miss the Columbia International Festival:
1. The food.
Whether you have very specific tastes, or you just like to try new food, the festival food court has lots of delicacies to savor. Countries represented include Bangladesh, China, France, Ghana, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine and Venezuela.
2. The performances.
Several international dances will be performed by natives of the country. The vibrant and authentic outfits displayed during each performance are captivating. Performers include the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company, Bangladesh Community of South Carolina, Bollywood Dance Dreamers, Latin Heritage Dance Company and Thai Dance and Meuy Thai.
3. National exhibitors.
Pick up a passport and see how many “countries” you can visit. These exhibitors are volunteers who were born in another country and will have displays that include (but are not limited to) posters, pictures, clothing, art, sculptures, books, paintings that reflect their country's national character. More than 70 countries will be represented through these exhibits, including Hungary, Myanmar, Madagascar, Liberia, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania and Turkey.
4. The International Bazaar.
Shop for trinkets, clothing jewelry, and more. All items are handmade from the very countries that they represent. Countries represented at the bazaar includes Colombia, Ghana, Iraq, Jamaica, Kenya, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Russia, St. Lucia, Thailand and Zimbabwe.
5. The flag ceremony.
The flags of nearly 100 countries will be presented in a colorful Olympic-style Parade of Nations at 2 p.m. April 14. The festival will also feature a staged International Fashion Show of Adult national costumes at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 14. Children’s Fashions will be presented at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 15.
If you go
Columbia International Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 14, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, April 15.
Where: South Carolina State Fairgrounds, 1200 Rosewood Drive.
Admission: $7 per adult. Active military personnel with ID and children 12 and younger are free.