by Debbie Monterrey,

It’s my favorite festival of the year. And this year, I needed it more than usual. Clearly many others felt the same. Record attendance for the International Institute‘s 2017 Festival of Nations at Tower Grove Park.

Festival of Nations 2017 in Tower Grove Park, St. Louis. (KMOX/Debbie Monterrey)

Certainly the beautiful weather helped bring in an estimated 150,000 people to South City’s National Historic Landmark park, but I believe many also came to spend a day rubbing elbows with people from all walks of life.

In the past year or so, the anti-immigrant/anti-foreigner rhetoric has been difficult for many of us. But at Festival of Nations, you see people of all races, religions, nations and ethnicities all getting along, celebrating differences, interested in learning about other cultures’ music, entertainment and food.

It’s beautiful. And restorative.

Festival of Nations 2017 in Tower Grove Park, St. Louis. (KMOX/Debbie Monterrey)

I grew up around immigrants. My mother was born in the Netherlands. My father was born in Indonesia. Our closest family friends when I was growing up were also immigrants. We visited Chicago’s Chinatown and Greektown, often. Hearing people speaking other languages was a normal thing.

As an adult, it’s probably no surprise I chose the Tower Grove Park area to live. The Park has played host to generation after generation of immigrants. On South Grand, St. Louis’ International Avenue, there are 22 immigrant-owned businesses and restaurants featuring 14 different nations/ethnicities.

The 2011 Festival of Nations at Tower Grove Park in St. Louis.  (KMOX/Brad Choat)

It’s also a great opportunity to eat your way around the world, as the festival features cuisine from nations not represented on South Grand (or maybe anywhere else in the state or Midwest).

Surfing through social media the weekend of the event, many comments mirrored my own thoughts–that now more than ever we needed this reminder that our nation is a melting pot. That immigrants make America strong.

As the daughter of immigrants, the mother of immigrants and the neighbor of immigrants, the crowd provided me with a much-needed sense of unity and hope.


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