Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, April 22, 2012 | 2 a.m.
THREE NOTEWORTHY BOOTHS
• Although there are only 18 Nepalese students enrolled at UNLV, the Nepalese Student Association came out in full force, offering traditional ethnic dishes such as Momo chicken dumplings and Chhoila, a pork and spice dish. UNLV engineering graduate student Dinesh Kandel and his wife, Sushma Tiwan Kandel — who was wearing a traditional Kurtha dress — said they hoped festival-goers would come away with a better understanding of their Himalayan homeland, which has eight of the top 15 tallest mountains in the world.
• A booth from German restaurant Café Berlin drew a few exclamations of “Vundabar!” (German for “wonderful!”) for its sizzling bratwursts and sausages. Executive Chef Rainer Matz, a seven-year Las Vegan who is originally from Germany, said he set up the booth to showcase his recently opened restaurant, located at 4850 W. Sunset Road. Matz said he hopes to invite German language students from UNLV to his restaurant to practice their speaking skills and to taste traditional German cuisine, which he emphatically said is not all from the Bavarian province.
• The Native American Student Association may represent only 1 percent of the student population, but has — as members' black T-shirts read — 100 percent pride in their heritage. The group was selling traditional fry bread and Horchata rice tea to raise money for multicultural events. The group’s faculty advisor, Christopher Kypuros—– whose ancestry is Mexica, an indigenous Mexican ethnic group — said that although there are many discussions on campus surrounding Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American issues, Native American issues are not as prominent. “No one talks about Native American issues,” he said. “We’re here today to make ourselves visible.”
Exotic smells wafted across the UNLV campus quad as Brazilian Capoeria martial artists performed on the alumni amphitheater to the tune of percussive Berimbau instruments and drums.
Nearby, brightly costumed Japanese Taiko drummers walked alongside festive Chinese Dragon dancers. A little ways away, Nepalese and Filipino student groups as well as cooks from a local German restaurant doled out traditional ethnic dishes to hungry patrons.
Welcome to UNLV’s 14th annual Festival of Communities, a fitting multicultural event for a campus ranked this year by U.S. News and World Report as having the 10th most diverse student population in the nation.
The festival began more than a decade ago as a platform for various international student groups to showcase their cultures and traditions. But five years ago, the festival was expanded to a community-wide event celebrating Las Vegas’ cultural diversity, said Randy McCrillis, director of the university’s civic engagement and diversity office.
It’s also a great way to reach out to a community more known for the glitz of the Strip than its growing research university nearby, McCrillis said.
“A lot of folks here have never been on campus,” he said. “We’d like for the community to venture forth and see what it’s like to be a Rebel.”
In a burgeoning city craving more cultural events, the Festival of Communities has become a popular attraction, drawing about 7,000 visitors last year. Despite the mercury heading toward triple digits, hundreds of families and students attended the daylong festival Saturday.
More than 150 booths representing fraternities and student groups, local restaurants and businesses, showcased their food, crafts and missions. Musical, performance and dance groups — from Tae Kwon Do martial artists to belly dancers — performed on two stages located at either end of the grassy quad. Young children frolicked in a special kids zone overshadowed by a gigantic colorful bouncy slide.
North Las Vegas resident Kelly LaPorte said she came to the festival to support a friend displaying handmade jewelry at one of the many booths. However, the Australia native said she also wanted to expose her 1-year-old daughter to the melting pot that is Las Vegas.
“It’s nice to see so many different cultures in one city,” she said, comparing Las Vegas’ diversity to New York City’s — a more established metropolis with four times the valley’s population. “The crowd here is very multicultural.”
For Rhonda Groce, a program officer with the university’s international programs office, the diverse theme of the Festival of Communities played right into her pitch. Standing in front of a booth festooned with colorful flags representing some of UNLV’s 39 study abroad programs in 25 countries, Groce wanted to encourage students and families to travel, pick up a new language and experience the world’s rich cultural offerings.
“We’re becoming a multinational society,” she said. “It’s important to meet people from foreign lands and learn new languages. It can help students find a job.”
For student groups, the Festival of Communities has become a major fundraising venue for various events and activities. Dozens of student groups representing various international communities and political causes paid a $30 booth fee to sell food and handmade wares to support their missions.
UNLV senior Anson Arakaki, president of the Raising Our Asian Rights coalition, was busy most of the day Saturday cooking Yakisoba, a traditional Japanese fried noodle dish. He said he was hoping to sell enough plates to fund a special graduation ceremony recognizing pan-Asian students at UNLV.
As one of the largest multicultural events on campus, the festival was the perfect place to raise money for international groups and recruit new members, a tough calling on a commuter campus, Arakaki said.
“I hope people learn about a culture they haven’t seen before,” Arakaki said. “Hopefully, by bringing different cultures together, it will broaden their horizons.”