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The Midwest Folklife Festival, held June 22 and 23, showcased traditional arts and music from the Upper Midwest. The many indigenous peoples and immigrant groups who call the Upper Midwest their home have all added cultural richness to the region. The festival offered a sampling of the abundance that surrounds us.

A brief and incomplete list of the ethnic groups who call the Upper Midwest their home reveals just how much diversity there actually is in this region. American Indian peoples include the Ho-Chunk, Dakota, Lakota, Santee Sioux, Oneida, Mesquakie, Menominee, Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi and Stockbridge-Munsee peoples. The region also contains our nation's largest concentrations of Belgians, Czechs, Danes, Finns, Germans, Hollanders, Luxemburgers, Norwegians, Poles, Swedes, Swiss, and significant populations of Armenians, Croatians, French-Canadians, Irish, Italians, Latvians, Slovaks, Welsh and Ukrainians. The Upper Midwest has also long been home to African-American and Hispanic peoples. Recent immigrants to the region include Hmong, Cambodian, Lao, Tibetan, Vietnamese and other Asian refugee people, as well as Bosnians, Russians and Somalis.

For many of us, our connection to the past, to our indigenous or immigrant ancestors, is an important part of our identity. We hang on to certain traditions, certain ways of doing things, certain objects or songs, because those things say something about who we are.

For example, food often plays an important role in maintaining our cultural traditions. Most of us have recipes that have been passed from generation to generation, and often we mark holidays and other celebrations by fixing special dishes. At the festival, visitors had a chance to try some popular Native American fare. They also had a chance to learn how to make several traditional kinds of dishes in food demonstrations-Norwegian lefse, Cornish pasties, and Croatian dishes.

Music, too, reveals the great variety of our heritage and tastes. The festival offered a range of musical traditions. Ho-Chunk singers and dancers, descendents of some of the earliest residents of this area, presented their music, dance and customs, making it clear that traditions are living and dynamic. A Hmong musician introduced visitors to the haunting sound of the qeej. Swiss singers demonstrated the beautiful harmonies and yodeling brought by their ancestors to Green County. A Colombian singer shared a number of Hispanic traditions. Visitors heard the uplifting sounds of a capella gospel, the stirring rhythms of hard-driving blues, rousing polka and old time fiddling. They marveled at the skillful feet of Double Dutch rope jumpers and Irish step dancers.

Ethnic artists demonstrated throughout the day an exciting variety of crafts: African-American doll making and carving, Croatian egg decorating, Finnish basket making, Mexican Day of the Dead traditions, Latvian weaving, Swiss paper cutting, Norwegian rosemaling, and more.

We may have certain traditions we identify as ethnic, but we also have traditions attached to the place where we live and the friends we keep-and often we see those traditions most clearly through our occupations and our recreation. Visitors had a chance to hear farmers talk about farming in the Upper Midwest, see how jumping rope can evolve into a demanding sport, and learn more about food traditions at the narrative sessions in the Plum Grove Church.

As part of the festival, a group of teachers participated in the Midwest Folklife Festival Institute, a training session in recording community traditions. On June 21, they explored some basic concepts about culture, and learned both documentation and website skills. On June 22 and 23, they went out to photograph, interview and record artists during the festival.

To learn more about the festival, please visit our sections on music and exhibits and demonstrations. To learn more about teacher training during the festival, and to view the work done by teachers, please visit our section on the Teacher Institute.


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