All the world’s a stage at International Heritage Festival at MJC

By Deke Farrow —
MODESTO — Uncle Sam – in stars-and-stripes top hat and tails – posing next to an Assyrian chariot. A Viking and a tartan-clad Irishman exchanging compliments on their attire. Crepes and felafels being consumed to the strains of “Danny Boy.”

It’s safe to say there was only one place in Modesto, maybe the world, where such sights, sounds and tastes could be enjoyed Saturday: the 22nd annual International Heritage Festival.

The event drew scores of exhibitors and performers, and hundreds of visitors, to the Modesto Junior College East Campus. It was a world-studies textbook come to life, with nations just steps away from one another, not thousands or tens of thousands of miles apart. Italy, China, El Salvador, Egypt, Norway and Vietnam were among the dozens represented.

Booths and the people tending them offered a wealth of information. Did you know?

• Assyrians were the first to make wheels of metal: copper, bronze and later iron. Bands of metal on wooden wheels’ surface made them more durable.

• India prides itself on rich and colorful textiles. Because of the country’s tropical climate, the breathable fabric of cotton is most practical, but India also is a top silk producer.

The free, one-day festival, presented by the nonprofit International Festival Committee, also provided hours of entertainment on two stages. Among the performers were the Ripon Police & Fire Bagpipe Band, Ballet Folklorico Los Falcones, the Oakdale Steelband (calypso and world music) and the Phuoc Son Buddhist Center’s Vietnamese singers.

No fest is complete without food, and the international flavors of the day ranged from shish kebabs to cheesesteaks, from nachos to those American favorites hot dogs and PB&J sandwiches.

Children visiting the event were encouraged to visit nations’ booths to collect stamps and stickers while learning about geography, history, music and art. The Stockton-based Dark Boar vikings, with costumed re-enactors and a display of weaponry, protective helmets, and chain mail, games and currency, was a popular stop for boys and girls alike.

“There’s a certain romance to it,” said Dark Boar member Ryan McDonald, explaining the appeal of Scandinavian history. Of course, to little ones, it’s like seeing the characters of the animated hit movie “How to Train Your Dragon” step off the screen.

McDonald, whose Dark Boar name is Sven Sigurdson, couldn’t talk for long.

“I’m supposed to do a fight, but I can’t find my partner,” he said, looking about. “We’re going to do some live steel” combat simulation.

Maybe his partner chickened out? Do Vikings do that?

“No,” McDonald replied, “he has a new girlfriend.”

Ah, so all’s still fair in love and war, no matter the place or time.

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