Two Modesto festivals showcase food, dance, traditions of native lands

Every day, Americans flipping through the news channels are greeted with images of war and angry voices calling for crackdowns on illegal immigration.

Amid all this clamor, Saturday was a day for celebrating different cultures in Modesto, with hundreds of people enjoying activities at the International Festival and the Hispanic Heritage Month street fair.

Given the current political climate, some felt that such events are taking on growing importance.

"It's easy to discriminate if you don't know about other cultures," said Steve Kenworthy, who attended the International Festival at the Gallo Center for the Arts. His wife was leading the Village Dancers group through an activity.

"I came out to support the group," he said. "(The festival) is a good way to show the culture and humanity of different ethnic groups."

Cultures from China to Wales were represented at the festival, which featured learning activities for families, traditional foods and cultural groups with displays of their native lands.

The Latino Community Roundtable organized the Hispanic street fair at the State Theatre to celebrate 200 years of Mexican Independence. The event included an Impalas Car Club show, dancing horses, music, folklórico dancers, food and the screening of a documentary film.

Modesto resident Jorge Zaragoza brought his three children and a niece to the two events.

"I believe we are all one," Zaragoza said. "There is no need to have discrimination. My grandparents are not from here. They are hard-working people who paid their dues."

With the flags of different countries waving in the breeze, a peaceful spirit reigned over Modesto's International Festival. Parents and their children circulated among the different booths to collect souvenirs or fill their paper passports with stickers.

It was Linda Salazar's first time at the annual festival. Her son, Julian, was admiring a leprechaun at a display showcasing Ireland.

"My son is turning 5," Salazar said. "It's good to get him to know the different countries and nationalities and their traditions."

Another information booth was run by the Boy Scouts of America. Troop leader Glen Gorman of Oakdale said the organization wanted to show that Scouting is a good way for young people of different ethnic groups to enjoy the outdoors.

Gorman hoped to expand the membership of his troop.

"The Boy Scouts is a multicultural organization," he said. "I think this event is good to enhance awareness. It brings people together."

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at or 578-2321.