harrisonburg’s international festival: Through a feminist lens

Just over the weekend, downtown Harrisonburg, VA hosted its annual International Festival. Marking its 25th annual celebration, the International Festival is an outdoor, flea-market style event that invites people of the Harrisonburg community to a festival of food, handcrafted arts, and other goods made by people of various international origins within the community. Despite the excellent intentions of this festival, I could not help but notice–through my feminist perspective–certain choices that were made around this event.

For one, I could not help but notice that the Instagram account for the International Festival has only posted two things about the weekend. The first post is simply an infographic with the information about the festival on it, but the second post was a “thank you” post following the festival, which I have embedded below.

Despite having women as the first image, these are white women–and further, white women with jobs. Moving onto the other pictures chosen, they are majority white people who work for the government. After being confused by this, I read the caption which was praising and thanking the help from volunteers, as well as the help from the government workers. Now, there is nothing wrong about thanking them, obviously they helped make the event happen and deserve some credit. Where my confusion sparked and my feminist senses started tingling was when I asked myself, Well wait… What about the people who actually participated in the festival? What about the people who put themselves and their culture out there for virtually nothing? Where is their thank you?

Additionally, I could not help but notice that besides not even mentioning the international people who participated, the pictures were all of white people. How can we advertise or spread awareness about an event like International Festival that is supposed to be centered around people of different cultures and nationalities with social media posts filled with a bunch of white people we see every day? Especially with them being government workers, it gives a sense of praising our own country and white people right after having invited people of international differences to teach us about their cultures/skills or showcase their craftsmanship. If anything, this post should have been published at a later date, and the immediate spotlight following the event should have belonged to those showcased in the event.

However, despite the poor marketing or gratitude showcased by the event marketers, the event itself is a great example of what doing the work can look like–since feminism is all about doing the work of feminism. With a historically stubborn population like that of America, it can be tough to motivate people to go out and explore things unfamiliar to them. Therefore, hosting a casual and friendly event like this where the exploration is instead brought to the people, can be a lot more effective in the attempts of getting people in your community to be more culturally open-minded. This made me think of the connection to feminism: it is not as effective to tell someone to “go out and be a feminist” as it is to first bring feminism to them and show them what it is and what the work looks like.

In concluding thoughts; the event was great as always! Just needs to be more mindful in the marketing arena to showcase who the event was about and raise more awareness to our international neighbors that many JMU students are not conscious of.

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