Cultures coming together

More than 150 attend Culture Fest, a new event at Sounds of Summer

Photo by Jenny Kirk Suni Thao, left, Ray Vue, Talise Vue, Riddik Moua, Aishiwaryu Moua and Ozzie Moua (not pictured) perform a Hmong dance during Culture Fest on Friday in Marshall.

MARSHALL — The first-ever Culture Fest — part of Marshall’s Sounds of Summer festivities — was a celebration of diversity in the community.

The new event featured music, dance, spoken poetry, games, henna tattoos, a fashion show and food on Friday in the Schwan’s downtown parking lots.

Emcee Ron Skjong introduced Amy Khamphanh, who spoke about the Lao culture.

“As you probably figured out, I am not from Laos,” Khamphanh said. “But as Ron said, my husband (Daeng) is. He was unable to attend (Friday night) because he’s working. Several other Lao people from our community also work the evening shift, so I’m going to share with you information that was told by Bounlome Soumetho.”

Soumetho is the advisory board chairman of the Lao Buddhist Temple in Worthington.

“Lao people began settling in America over 40 years ago,” Khamphanh said. “It’s been over 10 years since the last refugees from Laos came to America. Many have settled in southwest Minnesota and they have made this their home.”

Khamphanh added that the Lao culture values the sharing of happiness, kindness and support to one another.

“Mr. Soumetho said it’s especially important to continue to teach the younger generations to share kindness and generosity, to speak words of peace, to respect one another and to commit to their dreams,” she said.

Khamphanh was accompanied by her children, Natya and Kaden, along with Miss Lao New Year 2017 Abbey Siri.

“Abbey was crowned at the Lao New Year celebration near Worthington in April,” Khamphanh said. “Abbey will be in the seventh grade in Worthington, and she is involved in learning the traditional Lao dance technique as well. Her sister, Annie, is also with us.”

While Khamphanh wore her wedding dress — she and her husband have been married for 12 years — the girls also wore traditional Lao dresses. Her son wore a traditional sash that men wore for celebrations, she said.

With well over 150 people in attendance, dance groups took turns taking the stage. Marshall, Tracy and Walnut Grove youth Suni Thao, Aishiwaryu Moua, Talise Vue, Riddik Moua, Ray Vue and Ozzie Moua — ages 5-8 — performed a Hmong dance for the crowd.

“I think that it’s a really unique culture that needs to keep going,” said May Thao, who, along with Yeng Thao, taught the dance to the children. “It’s just a thing to keep us entertained, I suppose, but it’s also a skill they need to learn just for their life.”

A colorfully-clad group of Karen students performed a dance next.

“That was outstanding,” Tyler native Skjong said.

Six cultures — including Hmong, Somali, Laotian, Karen and Mexican — were represented during the fashion show. Clad in traditional Mexican dress were Clarissa Flores, 2-year-old Ximena Vanlerberghe who was accompanied by her 9-year-old sister, Ariela, and 3-year-old Cristel Duenas, who was accompanied by her sister, Yanelis.

Ximena Vanlerberghe’s hand-stitched dress came from the Mexican state of Chiapas. Wearing a soccer uniform, Jamileth Hernandez also represented Mexico.

While Meg Louwagie got a henna tattoo from artist Fariha Ahmed, two young boys — Abdi Abshir and Hamza Osman — interacted with Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota’s Will Thomas.

Just before the rain hit and people scattered, Skjong shared a story about Albert Callens, a local man who died Aug. 6 at the age of 95.

“I met Albert about a month ago,” Skjong said. “It was my great honor to talk to him for about 2-½ hours. I was terribly impressed. He’s a Belgian — born of Belgian parents. And I had the time to ask him a number of questions.”

Skjong shared a few details about Callens’ life and told the crowd he’d asked him what it was like back in his day.

“I asked him what it was like growing up when there were Poles, Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, Danes and Belgians all in the same area,” Skjong said. “He smiled and said, ‘You know, we got along pretty well. Once in awhile, there’s be something that would go wrong. But overall, we got along very well.'”

Skjong said he had Callens lined up to be at Culture Fest.

“Albert was a very enjoyable man,” he said. “He was sharp as a tack. And he’s a part of the heritage of southwest Minnesota, just as all the people you’ve just seen up here on stage are.”

After he’d heard Callens had died, Skjong said he went to Brau Brothers, bought a Belgian beer and raised that glass to him.

“He was a great man,” Skjong said. “I’m so happy I got the chance to meet him.”