The Secaucus chapter of the People to People International—a worldwide organization that fosters peaceful relationships among different cultures—held its second annual International Festival in Buchmuller Park April 30. The theme for this year’s event was umbrellas, which lined the park and are meant to represent peace. (Last year’s theme was honoring 9/11 survivors.)
President Dwight Eisenhower launched PTPI in September 1956, as an effort to promote a more peaceful world through international understanding.
In that spirit, the International Festival featured Bollywood dancing, a multicultural children’s fashion show, taekwondo demonstrations, and samba dancing. Not to mention foods—and interpretations of foods–from over 20 different countries, including Germany, Japan, Brazil, and Sweden.
“This is just one of PTPI’s events to bring everybody together from different nationalities, and promote peace.” said Donna Lastella, a PTPI volunteer whose food table represented France. Her offerings included bread with cheese, Nutella, and jelly on the side.
“In France, the sandwiches, they give you the bread and everything on the side—the side sandwich, so to speak,” Lastella said. “If you get a ham and cheese sandwich in France, they literally will give you the bread on the side and the ham and cheese on the side.”
“We need to raise awareness so that everybody can work together for one common goal and make the community a better place.” – Cathy Wolfe
As an Italian/Slavic-American providing her interpretation of cuisine from a different county, she helped embody PTPI’s idea of “culture sharing.”
Eshaan Mangat, 15, vice president for the PTPI Secaucus Chapter, stood over samosas filled with vegetables at the India table–a staple of Indian culture, according to Mangat. “It’s kind of like a street food—basically like potatoes, peas and a bunch of other stuff you can put in, and then they fry it,” said Mangat, an American born student of Indian descent.
Next to Mangat, at the Middle East table, Preston Luh shared his collection of bread, carrots, and pita chips with spices.
“This promotes love and peace,” said Sumera Haan, who presented chicken biryani—a combination of rice, chicken and Indian spices—at the Pakistan table. Though from India, Haan said that biryani is popular there as well. She said that cultural expressions are “what is needed in the world right now. This should happen in every part of the U.S.”
“This is our special cultural food,” added Ruahsana Ahmed, who was assisting Hann with the food, and is from Pakistan herself.
“Whatever the special occasion—a wedding, any kind of party, any celebration, we celebrate with biryani. [It has] lots of spices.” According to Ahmed, the dish takes a good two to three hours to cook. “It’s not easy to make.”
Other food offerings included Polish perogis, Greek dolmades, and sticky rice and mangoes from Thailand.
Before the event began, the vendors gathered at Trolley Park for their “peace walk” to Buchmuller. “Today is actually just trying to educate the community,” said Cathy Wolfe, an officer for PTPI’s Secaucus chapter, as the procession maneuvered down Paterson Plank Road towards the festivities.
“We need to raise awareness so that everybody can work together for one common goal and make the community a better place. This town is rich with cultures, so we want to share it with the community.”
Mayor Michael Gonnelli also made an appearance at the event, taking pictures with young children. Speaking of its importance afterwards, he said, “It is something that is very cultural. It brings a lot of recognition to the different cultures. It was Indian. It was American—several different cultures. It really proves how diverse Secaucus is.”
For more information on the PTPI’s Secaucus chapter, visit https://ptpi.org/Chapters/Find-a-Chapter/Chapter-List/Chapters/Secaucus,-New-Jersey-(GIFT)-Student-Chapter. You can also call 201-320-8491.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org