Baklava, empanadas and lumpias filled the streets of downtown Jackson for the seventh annual Jackson International Food and Art Festival (JIFAF). For many members of the international community of Jackson, this was an opportunity to showcase their culture through food, dance, and garments.
Dr. Sandra Dee, co-chair of JIFAF, was born and raised in the Philippines, she shared how the festival is symbolic for someone like her.
“I have lived in Jackson for 15 years now, I have been in the United States for over 25 years, and this is the place that I have lived the longest. So, I have considered myself a Jacksonian, and this is important,” Dr. Dee said.
She also expressed that this year was even more special, since there was no festival last year due to COVID-19 and it coincides with the bicentennial celebrations.
“When you come to this festival, you experience the world without leaving your own home,” Dr. Dee said. “I am ecstatic and very happy that we are able to do this, to bring people together, to celebrate our diversity in Jackson, and also we promote unity, by doing this festival.”
Jack Huynh, 18, currently resides in Memphis and is of Vietnamese descent. He attended the festival to support his friends who were performing in the parade and also to experience other cultures.
“I came here today because I heard it was a multicultural festival, which is really cool to me, because you don’t really see that often in everyday life,” Huynh said. “A lot of kids who are born in America, but they are from another country, they don’t get to see that very often, so it is nice to see the exposure.”
Anmar Abdi, 17, of Ethiopian descent, walked in the parade for the first time.
“I came here to celebrate everyone’s culture,” Abdi said. “Walking in the parade meant a lot to me, because I can represent Ethiopian culture and there is not very many Ethiopians in Jackson, so being able to be a part of the small group of us, and represent us, it meant a lot to me.”
Members representing Mexico were the closing act of the parade, showcasing a dance that was both cultural and religious celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Bertha Medina, 49, has participated in the festival for over five years and was one of the individuals showcasing Our Lady of Guadalupe dance. Medina was born in Mexico and has been in the United States for 25 years sharing and preserving her culture.
“The importance is to bring to this country our culture,” Medina said. “Showcase to the new generations that we have our own roots, even though we may be in a different country. As Mexicans, we have our roots and we don’t want to forget them. That’s why we strive to continue year after year, practicing and teaching, sharing a message not only with words but with garments, dance and drums, to our future generations.”
Dr. Dee said the festival has grown in leaps and bounds since they first started eight years ago and the symbolic importance of having the festival in downtown Jackson.
“Here where we are right now, this is city hall, you have the American flag, the flag of Tennessee, this actually shows that the city of Jackson embraces everybody, this is why this location is so important, I hope we keep it that way.” Dr. Dee said.
Paula Ospina is The Jackson Sun’s visual journalist. Reach her at 731-499-0026 or by email at [email protected].