Keene’s Human Rights Committee exists “to promote the principles of social justice, non-violence, equity, diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism.” This weekend’s event covers all those bases.
The second annual Keene International Festival happens this Saturday, Sept. 21 at the Keene Recreation Center. In celebration of the cultural diversity of the greater Keene community, the event is a collaboration of SAU 29 school district educators, Keene’s international community and civic leaders.
About a dozen demonstrations and performances are scheduled for the three-hour family-friendly free event, including multicultural music, dance, games, exhibitions, crafts and food from around the world. The first such event was last September at Jonathan Daniels Preschool and drew close to 500 people.
“There was one food vendor who sold out within a half-hour,” said Andrew Bohannon, Keene’s Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director. “The event wasn’t publicized either.”
Bohannon became involved at the same time the City changed the name of the Martin Luther King Jr./Jonathan Daniels Committee to the Human Rights Committee.
“The rec center park and building offered (the event) a great opportunity to expand, and (the event) provided the City an opportunity to promote the diversity we have,” he said.
The festival’s own mission is to show Keene is a welcoming place to live, work and raise a family. An unintended asset has been it connects people of other cultures in the community with each other.
Events will take place outside the recreation center from Washington across to Gilsum Streets. The Keene Lions Club will set up a pavilion to host performances and demonstrations, and there will be several more tents set up around the property for craft and food vendors as well as activities inside the building.
Brattleboro food trucks, Tito’s Taqueria and Taste of Thai, will be serving at the festival; and the food vendor list includes Finnish Mama, award-winning Finnish baker Adriana Stefanko, selling Finnish baked goods including nisu/pulla (cardamom bread); Yahso Jamaican Grille, Keene’s Main Street restaurant serving Jamaican jerk chicken with homemade sauce, mac and cheese and Jamaican patties; Royal Spice Restaurant, serving Indian appetizer and meals; Swanzey’s Honeycomb Coffeehouse; and St. George Greek Orthodox Church.
Performances and demonstrations including Abenaki singing with Bryan Blanchette; Nepalese dancing with Keene State College’s Nepalese students; Keene India Girls Bollywood dancing; traditional African drumming with Ronald Smith, band director at Northfield Mount Hermon School; Greek dancing with St. George Orthodox Greek Church dancers; Dancing La Bamba with Keene State professor Patricia Pedroza Gonzalez, performing traditional dance from her Mexican homeland; music by a multicultural chorus; traditional Finnish dancing; and Japanese Taiko drumming.
Games and activities include mini-soccer games; the Indian game Carom Board; German Hammerschlagen, a game involving being the first one to pound a nail into a log; French Petanque, a lawn game similar to bocce ball; Haitian card games; and Indian Henna/Mehndi body art.
The festival’s global bazaar will feature a variety of goods, including Nepalese art, Russian jewelry, Indian art and jewelry and Rwandan crafts as well as craft demonstrations. Exhibits, story walks, informational displays and face painting are also on the festival agenda.
“I’m excited about seeing the energy this committee has in putting forward this event,” said Bohannon of those who planned the festival. “They are an incredible group of people with a common purpose — to celebrate and share their cultures.”
The Keene International Festival is this Saturday, Sept. 21, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Keene Recreation Center, 312 Washington St., Keene. The event is free. For a full schedule, visit keeneinternationalfestival.org.