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Cultures Collide at Smithsonian Folklife Festival

One of the wonderful things about America is that it’s a cultural melting pot. Almost every race and ethnicity is represented in this country. Nowhere is that more apparent in Washington, D.C., which is one city that truly embraces the world’s diversity.

The chances here to encounter cultures you may have never known about are tremendous. Rarely does a week go by where there isn’t an opportunity to see something you may have even heard about. Over the next couple of weeks, right downtown, there’s one of the biggest multicultural events this city has to offer.

That’s because this weekend, as well as the week following the Fourth of July, is the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival. The Folklife Festival is an annual outdoor event, dedicated to cultural heritages that are alive and well throughout the world. It kicked off this Wednesday, and runs until Sunday. Then it picks up on the 6th and goes again until the 10th.

It’s also one of the Smithsonian’s biggest draws. Now entering its 46th year, the festival attracts, on average, a million visitors to the Mall, where it is set up outside, in front of the Smithsonian’s iconic red brick building.

This year’s festival has three main programs, each of which cover interesting aspects of the world. The first focuses on Hungary. The program Hungarian Heritage: Roots to Revival showcases contemporary Hungarian culture, and how it incorporates the country’s vast traditions from its lengthy history. Maybe more importantly, it also covers the country’s traditions have had on the world at large. Presenting some of the various traditions will be dancers and performers, as well as artisans from many crafts. Expect to see embroiders, coppersmiths, hat makers and thatchers.

Also on the agenda is the program One World, Many Voices, which takes a look at some of the world’s cultures and languages that are in danger of disappearing forever. As the world becomes more globalized, many old cultures are slowly fading away. According to the program, over half of the world’s 7,000 languages spoken today could disappear by the end of the century. At Folklife there will be cultural experts who are well-versed in these not well-known languages and traditions. They will speak about the importance of preservation and how language can shape cultural identities, values, and even technology.

The event will also have members of many of the unique cultures in town for Folklife. Attending are Tuvan stone carvers, who come from a Russian republic in South Central Siberia. Also here, from our own country, will be Passamaquoddy basketmakers, a native American tribe from Maine and Garifuna drummers, decendants of West Africa, who now live in Los Angeles and New York.

The last program at Smithsonian Folklife Festival is as interesting as the other two.  The Will to Adorn covers African-American dress and body art. The program looks at how the diverse groups of African-Americans living in the United States overlap and how both their shared and disparate experiences that have shaped that identity. It too will also cover how African-American culture has spread throughout the world. The Will To Adorn will feature, among many, artisans, hairdressers and milliners and tailors, all versed in different styles, who will demonstrate their crafts and lead discussions.

Over the next two weeks, the Smithsonian gives you the chance to understand the world in a way you may never have, which is an opportunity that is often unique to Washington, D.C.

– David


All images courtesy of The Smithsonian.


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