Zeriah Bethelio, a volunteer representing the small island country of Dominica, eagerly waits to educate visitors. (Photos by Hanna Schatteman)
Five percent of Columbia residents were born outside of the country, according to Data USA.
Columbia saw its annual international festival on Saturday and Sunday, which attracted around 20,000 visitors this year. It also had more than 100 countries represented.
“It’s a community coming together,” said Dr. Raj Aluri, a founding director of the Columbia International Festival. “People are proud to showcase their culture, their heritage.”
The festival has been recognized by the Southern Tourism Society as the largest international festival in South Carolina and neighboring states.
Zeriah Bethelio, was a volunteer at the booth representing the country of Dominica. Dominica, part of a string of small islands in the Caribbean Sea, was colonized by Britain and France.
Bethelio thinks it’s important to represent the small country.
The festival “gives me the opportunity to educate a lot of people, so I’m really enjoying it,” Bethelio said.
Aluri, an immigrant from India, sees Columbia as a growing multicultural community.
“When I first came here 47 years ago, there was not much diversity,” Aluri said. “Now, we probably have a hundred countries represented in Columbia and the Midlands region.”
Festival-goers experienced vendor booths representing countries across the globe with volunteers offering information about the various cultures. Along with the booths, the festival also offered an international food court, entertainment, a fashion show and authentic clothes, jewelry and souvenirs.
Many visitors, such as Bill Buchanan, attended to learn more about multicultural Columbia.
“We have such a diverse population down here,” Buchanan said.
Aluri wants visitors to learn from their visit. He wants them to remember America has always been a place where cultures came together.
“We have been an immigrant nation all along,” Aluri said.