A True Cornucopia of Cultures

Festival of Nations, held at Tower Grove in St. Louis, promoted and celebrated cultures from around the world.


Kylie Brennan

Many people gathered around the Earth globe in the main plaza of Tower Grove during the Festival of Nations.

Kylie Brennan, Reporter

People from all across the world came together in St. Louis at the Festival of Nations this past weekend at Tower Grove Park to share their cultures. Cars filled the streets, people of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and genders came together to learn about cultures around the world. 

Diverse crowds filled the streets, finding lines and booths to order from.

To witness firsthand the atmosphere of the event was incredible. You could hear people speaking in foreign languages, see families enjoying time together, and communities talking to each other about what makes them unique. 

I took the opportunity to learn more about these people and their communities’ cultures. I went to different booths and talked to many different people. One of these people being a young girl, Zakira from Uganda. She was extraordinarily nice and welcoming and greeted me with a warm smile. When asked about why she decided to attend this year, she answered, “to get exposure mostly, but to spread the good food.” 

Something fascinating to me was the way Zakira explained her culture to me. She shared that her “culture is fun, flavorful and colorful.”  Ugandan communities love to spend time together, having a lot of social gatherings. Zakira hoped that people would leave feeling joyful and she says that seeing how hardworking and determined everyone is to put on the festival is the coolest part to her. 

Lahoma Mitchell said that she went to the Festival of Nations to “express our roots and let everybody know about our culture.” Mitchell’s family came from Africa. 

“African Americans, we came from Africa and started Kenya. The base of what we do here is our seasoning. The seasoning we have is from Africa, we mixed it up ourselves, and that is what we are trying to show.” 

Mitchell hopes that everyone is happy and full when they leave Saturday night. Everyone coming together was the coolest thing she saw that day. 

“I am excited about all of the people here, this huge festival. Different countries, the choices you have. Everyone is coming together to experience,” Mitchell said.

“You know, some people say there are groups. There is diversity in St. Louis, but this is a chance for everyone to get together.” Mitchell continued, “I mean, when are you going to see an African nation’s food and Filipino and all these things in one?” 

Ben Dao, from Vietnam, tells us how unique this experience is. 

“Being an Asian family, we are usually more close knit, big on education,” Dao said. “But then we are American too, so it is that whole being American but keeping your culture, but then wanting to immigrate as well.” 

Dao talks about the Vietnamese New Year, and how his family and community is big on gathering together and cooking. He said the most exciting thing for him is the food. “To me, it is like, well, there are a lot of restaurants here, but in many countries there aren’t many. So be bold. Try something new, don’t be one of the people who are closed off.” 

Dao was very kind and at the end of our conversation he said, “I just hope people get a better taste, literally, so we can be better all around.” 

The Caribbean Association of St. Louis hosts meetings every month and tries to bring countries together. I had the pleasure of meeting Kennedy who has been a part of the association for a while. She came to the festival to volunteer at the Caribbean stand. Kennedy hopes that people leave feeling “excited, full, and wanting to know more about our association.” She loves that everyone gets the chance to experience the cultures shown at the festival.

Along with talking to people from the different country stands, I talked to one of the biggest sponsors for the festival, Emerson. I had a conversation with Daniela from Brazil about her take on the festival. She said that working with Emerson, “we work to have a more inclusive, diverse environment.” Daniela also expressed her home country’s traditions. “Brazil loves parties, gatherings, music and food,” she said. “So this is the perfect spot to be right now.” In Brazil, the main language is Portuguese, Daniela also speaks Spanish and English. Daniela hopes that, “Everyone feels connected, and learns something new, try new things like the food and music.” 

Myriame teaches me about a dish from her home country.

Myriame has been working the festival since 2006, she wanted to come back because COVID stopped the festival from happening the past two years. She loves to cook and is excited it was back on this year. I was delighted when she invited me to go behind the stand to talk to her about what she was making. She was making a meal her mother taught her to cook, a recipe from her home country of Haiti.

“I am cooking some plantains, a plantain is the cousin of a banana,” Myriame said. “You cook it green, it becomes yellow. Make a first cook and a second cook and you pot it with some Pikliz.” Pikliz is a Haitian pickled vegetable relish. She passionately told me a heartwarming story of how her mother was the one to teach her to cook, and that she is now passing on those recipes and that passion to her kids. 

In Haiti, they speak Creole. Myriame told me that the French way to spell it is Creole, and the Creole way to spell it is Kreyòl. She wants people to leave the festival happy. “They feel excited learning a different culture,” Myriame said. “They meet different people. I feel so happy to be here.” 

Being able to watch how she makes her dish was an amazing experience. It was raw and it was real.

People started to break away from the crowded booths and watch the stage for dancing and music.

At this point, the stands were surrounded by people and I didn’t get the chance to talk to other countries’ booths, so I directed my attention to the crowds and got to talk to a lovely mother and her son, Crissie and Brice Seper. 

Chrissie is from the United States, her ancestors came from Ireland, Hungary, and Germany. When asked about the traditions she had growing up she told that, “Saint Patrick’s Day is considered the high holy day in our family.” She felt inspired and educated by the festival, and was excited to see the Irish dancers. She said the coolest thing is how many different countries there were for the festival. Chrissie came to “see what it is all about, it is inclusive.” 

She let me interview her 10-year-old son, Brice. He said it was educational and he was so happy to be there. He visited the art and craft center that was set up for the kids to do cultural activities, however he said his favorite part was, “probably the world Earth balloon.” There was a giant balloon like Earth at the front of the festival that many people took pictures with. 

Not only was the festival held at a beautiful place, Tower Grove, it was filled with beautiful people. If you didn’t get to witness the festival this year, I would encourage you to go next year. It is a rich environment and an extremely welcoming place. Don’t close your mind to these cultural and ethical topics. Go out and talk to people, explore these communities. You won’t regret it.