The 24th annual Festival of Cultures celebrated unity and tolerance in Billings on Sunday at a time in American history marked by division and xenophobia-inspired violence.
“The folks at the Institute for Peace Studies decided they wanted a celebration of all the different cultures in Billings with food, entertainment, things for folks of all ages basically,” said David Burt, chairman of the board of advisers for the institute.
Burt estimated total festival attendance was in the thousands Sunday at Rocky Mountain College. The event featured international food offerings and vendors selling goods like clothing, jewelry and soaps. There were also booths representing the cultures of nations as varied as Mexico, Norway and Kenya. Many of the volunteers working at the festival were international students at Rocky.
Kasra Fasaei is a junior double-majoring in biology and chemistry. Fasaei is from Tehran, Iran and visited with children decorating the cardboard frogs and monkeys at his booth.
Fasaei said his involvement with the Institute for Peace Studies has allowed him to talk about his homeland with Billings elementary, middle and high school students over the last two years.
“When we go to the classrooms I talk about different things about my country and no matter where people are from we are all the same. We all have money, we all have food — it’s just different,” he said.
Fasaei said he finds people become more open-minded as they meet people with different backgrounds from their own and share their experiences.
The Institute of Peace Studies was founded in 1990 to "seek and promote alternatives to violence in the behavior of individuals, groups, communities and nations." The festival of cultures is a part of that mission.