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Published: Sunday, 8/19/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Celebrations create cultural experiences

Ethnic diversity showcased in Toledo, Sylvania Twp.

BY LIYAN CHEN AND TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Anika Singhania, 11, of Sylvania, foreground, participates in a performance of a Bollywood dance with eight other girls. They were onstage Saturday at the 23rd Festival of India at the Hindu Temple and Heritage Hall in Sylvania Township. Anika Singhania, 11, of Sylvania, foreground, participates in a performance of a Bollywood dance with eight other girls. They were onstage Saturday at the 23rd Festival of India at the Hindu Temple and Heritage Hall in Sylvania Township.
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Tastes, sounds, and sights from different worlds were available during the weekend in metro Toledo as both the Festival of India and the long-standing Birmingham Ethnic Festival kicked off their annual celebrations.

On the stage inside the Hindu Temple and Heritage Hall on King Road in Sylvania Township, nine young girls dazzled with their dance movements and colorful Indian dresses, chania choli.

As they performed the dance "Flashback" with a rhythmic medley of Bollywood music, the audience responded with waves of enthusiastic applause.

More than 800 people watched the 3:30 p.m. cultural program at the 23rd Festival of India.

This year, the three-day festival featured a special theme of "Bollywood Spices."

"This year's festival is dedicated to the Bollywood industry in India. Bollywood is the largest movie industry in the world, and its popularity is growing. People have seen that trend and we want to give them more," said Aron Agarwal, the festival's chairman.

Click here to see more photos from the Festival of India.

Click here to see more photos from the Birmingham Ethnic Festival.

While the Festival of India commemorated the 23rd anniversary of the temple's founding, another established festival, the Birmingham Ethnic Festival in East Toledo, celebrated the diverse neighborhood for the 38th year.

The Birmingham festival was created when the neighborhood was nearly lost to a city construction project that would have widened Consaul Street near Front Street.

"This is the first year that it will be two full days," said Peter Ujvagi, a longtime East Toledo politician and one of the members of the festival's organizing committee.

Mr. Ujvagi, who was born in Hungary and immigrated to the United States when he was 8 years old, has attended the Birmingham festival every year since its beginning.

Thanks to their music, food, and programs, both festivals were well attended.

Atul Agnihotri, spokesperson for the Festival of India, said that at least 2,000 people joined the festival.

The three-day Indian festival kicked off with a catered dinner and a concert called "Heart Beat" on Friday evening.

On Saturday from 1 to 10 p.m., under a big tent outside the temple, visitors got a taste of Indian culture through the Indian food from food stalls and traditional Indian clothes and decorations from vendors.

The temple's youth group sold homemade cookies and cupcakes to raise funds to help fight poverty in south India.

But the highlights on Saturday were two hour and a half shows at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., each with 12 dance performances.

About 100 dancers performed in the shows, according to Mr. Agnihotri. "This is the showcase of our culture." he said.

A regular prayer service is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon today, with lunch afterward.

Mia Raymond, 17, partners with Bill Weber, 5, for a dance during the 38th annual Birmingham Ethnic Festival in East Toledo. This is the first year that the festival will run two full days, Saturday and today. Mia Raymond, 17, partners with Bill Weber, 5, for a dance during the 38th annual Birmingham Ethnic Festival in East Toledo. This is the first year that the festival will run two full days, Saturday and today.
THE BLADE/ZACK CONKLE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The two-day Birmingham festival also presented music and performances to its audience, such as an appearance by the Cakewalkin' Jass Band in honor of the 80th anniversary of Tony Packo's.

The band played every Friday and Saturday night at the restaurant's original neighborhood location on Consaul Street for nearly 33 years, said Raymond Heitger of Toledo, the founder of the eight-piece, New Orleans-style jazz band.

"We haven't played the festival in a while," Mr. Heitger said. "It's good to be back."

Tony Packo's is celebrating its anniversary with a special beer, called Anniversary Ale. The restaurant is also selling commemorative anniversary beer mugs.

Food tents were plentiful at the Birmingham festival. There were even options for those who aren't fans of the traditional "old country" chicken paprikash, stuffed cabbage, or potato pancakes. Other offerings included egg rolls, Greek gyros, cheeseburgers, funnel cakes, and elephant ears.

Toledo Municipal Court Judge Amy Berling officiated the 17th Annual Waiters' Race, in which four-member relay teams competed to see who could most quickly run the race while carrying a tray with a pitcher of beer and two full glasses of beer.

The three teams competing were the current champions, the United Steelworkers, against Tony Packo's and the Hungarian Club.

It was a dead heat to the finish line between the Hungarian Club and United Steelworkers. The deciding factor was a measurement of how much beer each of the two teams had left in the pitcher and cups on their trays, which put the Hungarian Club ahead.

"It's good to have the trophy back," said Tim Whitney of Lambertville, who led the race with a strong start for the Hungarian Club.

The team had won five in a row before falling to the Steelworkers last year.

The Tony Packo's team crossed the finish line last but managed to maintain a completely full pitcher of beer and two full cups — which made them the winners in the eyes of beer fans.

The two festivals, along with the Hibernian Irish Festival Friday and Saturday, brought a weekend full of fun and cultural experience to Toledoans.

"Our performers, especially the kids, are so happy to perform. They are proud of the [Indian] culture. … The festival has expanded this year, and we hope that it will continue to expand in the future." Mr. Agnihotri said.

Contact Liyan Chen at: lchen@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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