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International Festival celebrates its 20th year (with video and photo gallery)

Quetzal dancers perform Saturday at the International Festival in Worthington. (Veasey Conway/Daily Globe)2 / 3
Nyakan Gach, 8 of Worthington, shows off her painted face and braids Saturday at the International Festival in Worthington. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)3 / 3

WORTHINGTON -- Leann Enninga stopped her clean-up duties for a moment and looked around at the lawn of the government center.

"Watching people, nobody is in mass leaving, they are enjoying the evening. I think that's really, really important. And look at all the young people," she said. "So often what do we hear from kids in the community? That there is nothing to do. Here they are, they are all downtown. There are hundreds of young people here."

On Friday and Saturday night, the diversity that makes up the city of Worthington was celebrated as the 20th annual International Festival provided music, entertainment and learning from a few of the cultures present within the city.

"It's important for us to learn about each other," said Enninga, who is on the festival committee. "I think that's one thing we always felt was important about the festival.

"We had the classroom of the world here tonight," she continued. "How lucky we are to have that."

The celebration began Friday night with the parade of flags, allowing each country to be recognized.

"The importance of this festival is it gives those who makeup the community the opportunity to showcase where they came from," said Worthington mayor Alan Oberloh, who gave the welcome. "It's no different than the Scandinavians who came here centuries ago. I came from German heritage and I still recognize that. There are people from every part of the globe who have chosen to make Worthington their home. This is the opportunity for the folks that live here to showcase where they came from and they know now Worthington is their home."

Musical group Pachanga Society kicked off the entertainment Friday night.

"This is great," said band member Mike Hasbrouck. "I'm really surprised about the diversity of people here in Worthington."

The group is based out of Stearns County and entertained the crowd with music from a variety of countries.

"It's kind of what we do," Hasbrouck said. "Like all those things we play, if we play the Colombian Cumbia, if you're from Colombia, you'll say, 'It's a Colombian Cumbia, but it's a little bit rockish.' It's not an authentic Colombian Cumbia, and we'll do some rock tunes and people say, 'That's not really a rock tune.' We kind of do music from all over. I'm a spanish professor at St. Cloud State and that got me into music from different places, the Spanish speaking world anyway."

Saturday featured Ensemble Mezze, Kenyan Acrobats, CAAM Chinese Dance Theater, Quetzal, Taiko Japanese Drumming, Malamanya and a performance by local Karen Dancers.

"I think we had a wonderful mix of both the people who came and the types of performances that we had," Enninga said. "By having a fashion show, I think we ended up bringing in a lot of different kinds of people."

It was the first time a fashion show had been a part of the festival.

"Ana Standafer called me one day at the office and was like, 'Hey, do you know of any people that would be willing to share their traditional clothing in this fashion show?'" Nichole Ektnitphong said. "I thought we could come up with some people because we work with a lot of diverse kinds of people culturally, ethnically and religiously. I took the reins on that and lined up everyone. I typed together the script and the little snippets of what the clothing was. It really came together within the last couple of days."

Ektnitphong is working with the Integration Collaborative this summer as she works on her Phillips Project, which is a state-wide scholarship through the Minnesota Private College Fund. Next summer, she will be holding workshops for high school seniors-to-be to help them find out ways to live a life of purpose.

"This is the first year they are having the native costume fashion show," she said. "I don't know where the idea came from, probably from one of the committee meetings. And what a great idea because there are so many different cultures and the clothing was beautiful."

Ektnitphong will be studying abroad next fall in India, so it was only fitting she would don a traditional Indian outfit.

"Since I've been kind of getting in the Indian spirit with reading books about the Indian culture and seeing the outfit, I was going to try it on and it fit," she said. "I thought I would show some pride for where I'm going to be spending my time for the next four months."

Between performances on the stage, local talent was showcased.

On Friday night, Britton Pankratz put on a yo-yo display.

A recent high school graduate, Pankratz is no stranger to performing in front of crowds.

"I've been traveling around doing county fairs the last three years, usually seven or so," he said. "I made it to the state fair two years ago, but I didn't make it to the grandstand. Last year, I made it to the grandstand.

"There are two divisions," he explained. "One is you go up to the cities and tryout. It's kind of for the cities area since there are no county fairs. The county fair one, you have to win that to go to semifinals and you have to win that and go to finals and get first or second. If you do that, you go to the grandstand, which is pretty much the ultimate in the state."

He was also a regional FFA contest winner.

"In the state FFA convention, I competed in Region 6 and I actually won the state contest," he said. "I got to apply for the national FFA, which is in Louisville this year. That's a competition, so if you go all the way to the end, it's performing in front of 55,000 people and on RFD-TV."

Pankratz started with a $3 yo-yo and a few YouTube videos. Now, he is making up his own tricks and his own style.

"My friends and I actually practiced at noon hour when I was at school and when I was at home," Pankratz said, also adding that he can juggle. "For the first year or two, I actually practiced up to eight hours a day."

When people weren't watching the entertainment, there were plenty of food vendors to give a taste of different cultures.

"The beautiful part of it is you could come here and sample foods," Oberloh said. "I'm a meat and potato guy, my wife, however, likes the Asian food and the hotter things. It gives people the opportunity, you can try something and choose to like it and go to any number of restaurants we have here in town or to the groceries stores that have the product and you can make your own. I think it's a great deal. It's an opportunity to try some of the foods and experience some of the music that comes with the people who live here."

And by the end of the festival, Enninga hopes people were able to gain a new understanding and appreciation for the different cultures.

"I think it's so necessary for us to recognize and celebrate the people who are a part of our community," she said. "It seems like we're always out looking for something else. The good stuff is right here. We forget that we have such a wonderful opportunity to have all this diversity in our community. We just need to celebrate it. We need to have a time to say, 'You know what, we care that you're here, you make our community what it is.' It's not just the newest immigrant groups, but the immigrant groups who have been in the community for 100 years. We're celebrating all of them because that's what it's all about."

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen can be reached at 376-7323.