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Festival celebrates Toledo's bond with cities abroad

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    Alexis Hartloff, left, smiles after performing with the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance during the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival at SeaGate Convention Centre Saturday, April 14, 2018.

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    Ka'Nya Braswell, 13, center, laughs with her friends during the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival.

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    Kevin Ruedy, with the Toledo Swiss Society smiles while serving traditional Swiss food during the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival.

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    Riley Foos performs with the Greater Toledo International Youth Orchestra during the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival.

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    Brenda McLaughlin, left, and Lauren McCain, right, laugh together while waiting for members of the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance to perform.

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    Yang Kun Song conducts the Greater Toledo International Youth Orchestra.

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    Maggie Ou performs with the Greater Toledo International Youth Orchestra during the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival Saturday, April 14, 2018 at SeaGate Convention Centre.

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    Volunteer Kristen Holbrook, left, and her daughter Emma Kate Holbrook, right, applaud a preformance during the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival.

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    Alexis Hartloff, center, performs with the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance during the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival at the SeaGate Convention Centre on April 14, 2018. Dancers from left to right: Elsa Klaas, Freya Kaas, and Keira Dawson join her.

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    Alexis Hartloff smiles after performing with the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance.

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    "Dollz by Danielle Marie" were for sale during the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival at SeaGate Convention Centre.

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    Lauren McCain, left, Alexa Bernhard, center, and Reagan McLaughlin, right, perform with the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance.

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With flags and food, dances and drinks, traditional and contemporary dress from all the cities bound to Toledo through handshakes and agreements, the city celebrated those elsewhere that have pledged friendship to us.

The ninth annual Toledo Sister Cities International Festival went on all day Saturday at the SeaGate Convention Centre, with food, booths, musical performances, dances, and more. There were foreign language presentations, martial arts demonstrations, and a parade of flags to honor the sister city and regional agreements Toledo has with other communities.

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Alexis Hartloff, left, smiles after performing with the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance during the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival at SeaGate Convention Centre Saturday, April 14, 2018.

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Toledo has sister city relationships with Spain’s Toledo, Japan’s Toyohashi, India’s Coimbatore, Germany’s Coburg, Pakistan’s Hyderabad, Poland’s Poznan, Hungary’s Szeged, Tanzania’s Tanga, and both Qinhuangdao and Nanchong in China. Toledo also has a regional agreement with the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

Genevieve Kirkbride, chair of the Bekaa Valley committee for Toledo Sister Cities, said Saturday’s event shows “how important [it is] that people understand that we are all one people.”

“Our blood is the same,” she said.

A founder of the local committee, Ms. Kirkbride was born in Zahlé in the Bekaa Valley and moved with her family to the United States in 1946. Lebanese and other Arab-American communities in Toledo are diverse, and at times have lacked unifying elements, she said. Orthodox Christians formed their own churches, Lebanese Catholics joined established parishes, and newer Muslim communities have grown.

The Sister Cities program not only connects Toledo with far-flung communities, it also serves as a unifier here. 

“It’s vital, not for my generation, but for the generations that are coming,” Ms. Kirkbride said. 

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Kevin Ruedy, with the Toledo Swiss Society smiles while serving traditional Swiss food during the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival.

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Brittany Ford, co-lead of Welcome Toledo-Lucas County — the county's effort to embrace immigrants and refugees — said the Sister City event helps highlight growing communities in Lucas County.

“Some of our biggest and most active Sister Cities today are our rising immigrant communities,” she said.

The festival last year was held at the University of Toledo, and was attended by about 2,000 people, event organizers said. And it’s not just dedicated to countries and cities with established relationships with Toledo. Exhibits, displays, and performances included representatives for Nepal, Ireland, Sweden, and Mexico, among others.

Among one of the first performances was by students of the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance, which has a studio in Toledo. 

The festival, after all, is about celebrating the diversity of our community, said James Hartung, Toledo Sister Cities International board president.

“We are here to celebrate what American is all about,” he said.

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