ALBANY, N.Y. — The Capital Region community celebrated its cultural diversity over the weekend at the 47th annual Festival of Nations.
The event, held Sunday at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, typically draws 2,000 to 3,000 attendees.
Ethnic groups gather on stage at the 2018 Festival of Nations on Sunday in Albany.
The festival includes a parade of nations, music and dance performances, the Miss Festival of Nations pageant, along with food and craft vendors selling cuisine and goods from all of the different cultures.
Now in its 47th year, the Festival of Nations was first held in 1972 at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, then moved to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute field house the following year for a larger space.
In 1978, it relocated to the convention center in Albany, where it’s now been held for the past four decades.
Organizers said it all started when ethnic group leaders got together with an idea to organize an art and cultural festival in the Capital District, and almost a half-century later that’s still the idea.
Festival of Nations chairman Manoj Ajmera said he’s always impressed by “how well people from different thinking, different cultures can work together and present this festival year after year,” he said. “It’s been 47 years so we must be doing something right.”
The countries represented at the 2018 Festival of Nations were Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Greece, Haiti, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Korea, Liberia, Lithuania, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Scotland, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine.
“I’m so happy we have a festival like this,” said Yan Wang, president of the Chinese Community Center in Latham. About 300 people from the center participated in the festival this year, showcasing Chinese martial arts, dance, handwriting, and food while learning about other cultures as well.
Italy is represented in the parade at the 2018 Festival of Nations on Sunday in Albany.
Ed Salvo of the American Italian Heritage Association and Museum said he likes seeing what other people’s cultures are like and learning about them. “I think the unity of it is a great thing too, people coming together.”
Later on in the event, Salvo performed some Italian folk songs on guitar.
“We are celebrating diversity today,” said Rafi Topalian, representing Armenia, which has been part of the annual event since its inception. “It’s all love in here. It’s a mini United Nations.”
Rafi and Marianne Topalian represent Armenia at the 2018 Festival of Nations on Sunday in Albany.
As “The Singing Jeweler,” owner of Top Custom Jewelers in Watervliet, part of Topalian’s role each year at the annual Festival of Nations is to sing the U.S. national anthem, as well as “God Bless America.”
“We have beautiful ethnic groups and organizations,” Topalian said, “and I sing those beautiful patriotic songs to remind all of us that we are all Americans.”