story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula, special to The City Wire
Downtown Rogers was bouncing with the beat of traditional music Saturday (Oct. 5) as people braved the rain and enjoyed the 13th Annual NWA International Festival and 6th Annual International Fashion Show.
This annual event, which is run by the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce,
celebrates the more than 50 countries represented in Northwest Arkansas through music and dance performances, food vendors, crafts and cultural exhibits.
"It's a day of sharing of cultures, making new friends, and realizing that you don't need to travel around the world to discover new cultures: they're right in your backyard," said Geovanny Sarmiento, vice president of minority business development at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.
Northwest Arkansas is known for it's melting pot that includes Latinos, Asians and Marshallese Islanders.
Although rain storms reduced attendance at the event Saturday, Sarmiento has seen the event grow in popularity every year, usually expecting 5,000 people to attend. He credits media support and involvement.
One of the highlights of the event was the International Fashion Show. Models from cultures from the Americas to Africa to Asia showed off their traditional attire.
"Year after year we have more people participating in the fashion show, and they really get their hearts into it," Sarmiento said. "A lot of people come to the event each year just to see the fashion show."
The International Festival was a family-centered affair.
"It's important to teach kids about the world so they can become better American citizens," said Rita Wu.
Wu was in charge of the Kids' Zone, where she had set up creative ways for children to learn about the language, food, fashion, flags and money of other countries.
The event began several years ago "with a community of friends, including Wal-Mart," a company responsible for bringing much of the diversity to Northwest Arkansas. Later Wal-Mart partnered with the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce to produce the event each year. The event has been held in downtown Rogers for five years, Sarmiento said.
The International Festival has been plagued by the weather for the last few years. Last year it was sleeting on the day of the event, so a rain storm might be seen as an improvement.
"We hope Mother Nature has better plans for us next year," Sarmiento said.