Celebrating nations

As guests came by the Philippine booth, Manny Flores asked them to guess how many islands make up the Western Pacific nation.

“It’s 7,107 islands, at low tide,” explained Flores’ daughter, Victoria Flores.

The Philippines was the featured country at Iowa Central Community College’s annual Festival of Nations this year.

A bigger than ever crowd visited the fair to learn about places around the world and get their “passports” stamped.

“We had a great crowd, just amazing,” said Patty Croonquist, a member of the Focus International Committee. “I would say we had about 400 to 500.”

Manny Flores brought a lot of information with him about his country of birth. It was under Spanish rule from 1521 to 1898, he said, and has more than 100 dialects.

But in some ways it’s easy to communicate there.

“Almost everybody can speak English,” he said. “The Philippines was a U.S. colony.

“If you go to the Philippines, it’s probably the most Americanized nation in Asia. You get off the plane, you see traffic signs and it’s all English. You turn on the radio and it’s the American Top 40.”

Manny Flores has been in America, and in Fort Dodge, since 1997. Victoria Flores was born here.

“We always spend Christmas and New Year’s there. That’s always a good time,” she said. “We always stay with relatives, so we get to see everything.”

There were 24 countries represented this year, Croonquist said, including Italy, Ghana, Tanzania and the Dominican Republic. The tae kwon do group from the REC Center gave a presentation, a group from Storm Lake did a Mexican folklore dance and Amper Garland, originally from the Philippines, led a Zumba session.

Treats were available from the Czech Republic, and Brazilians taught visitors how to dance the Samba. Salissou Sami helped to hand out beans with rice called wakey and sweet, strong tea called ataya at the Niger booth, when he wasn’t dancing to the beat of a djembe.

Esther Vieira dressed in an extravagant costume typical of the Carnival in Brazil. When she wasn’t at her booth, she had time to visit the others and sample some treats.

“I tried a juice from Nigeria – delicious, delicious,” she said. “And candy from Peru, made out of black corn.”

Maria Cortez said she liked seeing all the countries, but liked the Brazil display the best.

“It’s pretty cool. I learned how to Samba,” Cortez said. “You can’t go wrong with Samba.”

“The best one was the Dominican Republic,” said Abbigail Larson. “One of our friends is from the Dominican Republic, and my roommate is from Guatemala, so the two of them together, it makes me learn Spanish easily. I want to go and travel to different countries, and learn to speak Spanish more than I already do.”