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ALBANY: Festival shows off Capital District diversity

Capital District residents will have an opportunity to celebrate and learn about different cultures this weekend during the 36th annual Festival of Nations Sunday, Oct. 28.

The Festival of Nations encompasses 25 different cultures from around the world in a daylong celebration that gives families a chance to celebrate their own heritage and culture and experience the different cultures of the world through dancing, traditional costumes, art, food and music.

The event started in 1972, when a small group of ethnic leaders got together in the hopes of organizing an art and culture festival in the Capital District.

According to festival chairman Manoj Ajmera, the Festival of Nations was started with three goals in mind. The first was to prove how well people with diverse backgrounds can work together; the second was to present a glimpse of the world to the residents of the Capital District; and the third was to get the children involved so they could appreciate their heritage.

Nonprofit group such as the American Italian Heritage Association or a Greek church sponsors each of the nations involved with the festival. Ajmera said the festival's organization works a lot like a mini-United Nations with one representative from each nation participating in the planning process.

This year's festival promises to be as exciting as past years with a parade, dance exhibitors from various ethnicities, food and music. Two new nations are involved this year, Norway and Ethiopia. Ajmera is expecting about 5,000 people to attend the festival, which will be held in the Empire State Plaza from noon to 5 p.m.

There will also be the crowning of Miss Festival of Nations. Twenty girls ages 14 to 18 had the opportunity to interview with a panel of judges to attain the title. Each of the nominees gathered at the Albany Marriott on Wolf Road in Colonie, Wednesday, Oct. 17, dressed in traditional costumes of the region to share their ideas about the importance of celebrating different cultures. Each of the nominees were close descendants of someone who recently immigrated to the United States. Each of the girls has stayed close to their heritage including Martina Nezaj, 16, of Glenmont, a Bethlehem High School junior who said she enjoys being apart of the festival because her heritage is very important to her.

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