Celebrate Diversity

Fusionfest, April 28 and 29

Since Tucson is only 50 or so miles from the border with Mexico, some of us have an awareness of Mexican culture that most Americans lack.

Now we have a chance to expand our knowledge of the rest of the world through Fusionfest.

The festival, put on by the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance, is packed with some of the best elements of foreign cultures, such as food, art, crafts, literature, fashion, film and music. Liz Stern, the alliance's development manager, said that this year's event, at Pima Community College's Northwest Campus, is a "rebranding" of the various art and cultural events that the association typically hosts.

"We've partnered with Pima for several years now, and we wanted to rebrand it to explore some of the different cultural elements that are so prevalent throughout Southern Arizona," Stern said.

Stern said the campus is a great venue for the event, because the college offers many classes that can further understanding of the cultural topics showcased.

"Tucson is a very multicultural area ... and a lot of events take small elements from a culture and focus on it," she said. "For example, culinary elements are very well-represented at Tucson Meet Yourself, but we wanted a platform to bring all of those elements into one area to get a very full experience."

Stern said she's excited about the festival's Culinary Arts Pavilion, where the foods offered for sale will be exotic and international; the event will also include a spice market, Stern said.

Musicians, dancers, chefs and other artists at the festival will represent African nations, the Philippines, Ireland and other countries. Local Native American artists also will be on hand.

Stern said the events at the Performing Arts Pavilion "will be the most eclectic and electrifying portion" of the festival, because "it's just such a wide array of different types of performances, and each commands such a different presence from the crowd.

"Our performing-arts lineup is fabulous," Stern continued. "We have Balkan dancers; we have Czech and Slovakian performers; we have a Chinese lion dance. ... We have (Japanese) taiko drumming."

The Fashion Pavilion will feature displays of traditional costumes, jewelry and fabrics from a variety of cultures, including traditional Greek, Swedish and Czech costumes, ceremonial African headpieces and more.

"We really wanted to diversify as much as possible," Stern said. "So when we talk about a multicultural festival, we reach from here to Asian culture to African culture to Swedish. We try to hit pretty much every continent as far as representation for the festival."

At the festival's Literary Arts Pavilion, attendees can gain new perspectives on the cultures represented at the festival through films, literature and talks.

Elhadj Ndoye of Senegal will be showcasing a film about his native country. In 2010, Ndoye started a nonprofit organization called The Forgotten Children to help children living on the streets in Senegal.

Ndoye, who has collected clothes, shoes and blankets through his group, said he hopes showing the film at the festival will raise awareness of the issue, and illustrate what his group is doing to improve the children's lives. He plans to return to Senegal to build a shelter for the children.

Ndoye said he would display items at the festival that relate to his native country—"hopefully some literature, some educational stuff, and possibly have a guest speaker," he said.

Fusionfest is a worthwhile undertaking, he said, because "it's just important for people—doesn't matter where they're from—to know what's happening internationally, and this is a great avenue to get that message out. We're going to have people from all over the world there."